Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Oral Care

Font Size

What Causes Bad Breath?

Come on, admit it. You’ve suffered from bad breath. Everyone has. It’s one of life’s most common annoyances. The good news is we can do something about it. But first, you need to know where it comes from.

garlic bulbs

The Beginnings of Bad Breath

Bad breath starts with what you put in your mouth. Garlic for lunch? A late-morning latte? They may taste delicious, but consider yourself warned.

Food you eat: Although garlic and coffee are two main offenders, other eats like onions and spicy food also can bring on bad breath. The odors of these foods enter your bloodstream and head right to your lungs, coming out with each exhale.

Food "trapped" in your mouth: We're not talking about just a little spinach on your teeth. After a meal, any food particles that remain between your teeth, in your gums, or on your tongue can release their odor into your breath -- which gets worse as that food decays. And without good care of your teeth and gums, this stuck food can set off a cascade of events leading to gum disease.

Tobacco: There are lots of reasons to avoid tobacco; bad breath is one on the list.

Diets that lead to weight loss: We agree that it seems unjust, but when your body breaks down fat, the process releases chemicals that can give your breath an unpleasant smell.

Dry mouth: Feeling parched? Saliva’s job is to serve as a continuous rinse cycle for your mouth. If you don’t have enough, your mouth loses its freshness fast. In fact, morning breath is worse for people who sleep with their mouths open. A dry mouth is a smelly mouth.

Medications or health issues: Drugs that cause dry mouth can also contribute to bad breath. Health problems such as seasonal allergies, chronic sinusitis, bronchitis, respiratory infections, stomach problems, diabetes, and liver and kidney diseases factor in, too. Unrelenting bad breath may also be a sign of gum disease.

How to Make Your Breath Better

There are some quick and easy ways to banish bad breath. Just remember, the odor from what you eat can stick around until the food works its way completely out of your system -- up to 3 days later!

Clean those teeth: Not only do they prevent odor-causing plaque from building up in your mouth, but flossing and brushing are healthy for your gums and teeth, too. If you can’t brush after a meal, give your mouth a good rinse with water to at least loosen up and free those trapped bits.

Clean that tongue: Bacteria on your tongue can contribute to bad breath. When you brush your teeth, brush your tongue, too, or use a tongue scraper.

Use a mouthwash or dental rinse. Mouthwashes don't typically relieve bad breath for long. But some specialized rinses can help kill bacteria that cause bad breath and can help with other underlying issues. Antimicrobial mouth rinses, for instance, help kill plaque-causing bacteria that can lead to gingivitis, an early, mild form of gum disease. Adding a fluoride rinse to your daily routine can help prevent tooth decay.

WebMD Medical Reference

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Never
(0)
Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
(7)

You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

close up of woman sticking out tongue
Sores, discoloration, bumps and more.
toothbrushes
10 secrets to a brighter smile.
 
Veneer smile
Before and after.
Woman checking her bite in mirror
Why dental care is important.
 

Woman dissatisfied with granola bar
Slideshow
woman with jaw pain
Quiz
 
eroded front teeth
Slideshow
brushing teeth
Video
 

Variety shades of tea
Slideshow
mouth and dental instruments
Article
 
Closeup of a happy young guy brushing his teeth
Tool
womans smile
Video