Halitosis (Bad breath): General Info


What is it?

Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. It's very common and affects most people from time to time.

What happens?

Friends and colleagues usually notice the odor before the individual does. The majority of sufferers are oblivious to the fact that they have bad breath until a good friend points it out to them.
Once aware that they have bad breath they'll often obsessively check their breath, going to extremes to ensure that their breath doesn't smell, even after they've solved the problem.

Why does it happen?

Very occasionally it's illness that causes bad breath. In the past it was believed to be due to indigestion but this is rarely the case. Eating too much garlic, onions, and spices causes temporary bad breath. This is common in the 'morning after the night before', and is often called 'morning breath'.
More persistent bad breath results from smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and the number one cause of bad breath - poor oral hygiene. Bacteria that live in the mouth break down proteins in food, releasing sulphur compounds. It's these that smell. People with gum disease and dental decay are more likely to suffer.
For those with healthy teeth and gums then a collection of bacteria at the back of the tongue is often to blame. This is why people with chronic sinus infection or post-nasal drip often have bad breath.
A lack of physical exercise, too much stress, and not drinking enough liquid during the day can also contribute to bad breath.

Can I stop it?

To find out whether you have bad breath lick the back of your hand and smell it. If the answer is yes then try eating fewer 'smelly foods and spices' and sugary foods for a while. Stop smoking, drink less alcohol and caffeine and more water throughout the day (at least 2 litres).

Improve your oral hygiene by:

- Having regular check-ups with the dentist.
- Brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day.
- Using a non-alcohol based mouthwash.

Using a tongue scraper to remove the collection of bacteria from the back of the tongue - these are available from the pharmacist - or the handle of a teaspoon will do.

Should I see doctor?

A dentist is probably a better person to see about bad breath.


Chewing sugar-free gum after meals helps cleanse the mouth and is helpful if it's not convenient or possible to clean the teeth. A mouth freshener spray will temporarily mask the problem if you find yourself in a tricky situation. Most dentists offer help with resolving the problems of bad breath and the opportunity to get help and advice from a dental hygienist.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.

Revised May 30 2002
© 2002 SLPM Self care Ltd.

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