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Bad Breath

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about bad breath?

Bad breath, or halitosis, can happen from time to time or be a long-term problem. The most common cause is the breakdown of food that sticks between your teeth, on your tongue, or around your gums. Without proper dental care, bad breath can develop.

What else causes bad breath?

  • A dry mouth
  • Tooth decay, plaque buildup, gum disease, or mouth sores
  • Foods, such as red meat, onions, garlic, and cheese
  • Drinks, such as orange juice, coffee, and soda
  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or sinus infections

How is bad breath diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your mouth and nose. He or she will smell your breath as you breathe through your nose and then your mouth. You may need tests if an underlying medical condition is causing your bad breath.

How is bad breath managed or prevented?

  • Practice good oral care. This is the best treatment for bad breath. Brush your teeth 2 times a day, 1 time in the morning and 1 time in the evening. Use a fluoride toothpaste. Floss your teeth 1 time each day, usually in the evening. Use alcohol-free mouthwash after you floss. Swish it around in your mouth for 30 seconds and spit it out.
  • Eat more vegetables each day. Carrots, celery, and other vegetables can help prevent plaque buildup on your teeth. Avoid food and drinks that cause bad breath. Some examples include red meat, garlic, onions, fish, eggs, orange juice, and soda.
  • Keep your mouth moist. Suck on sugar-free mints or candy, or chew sugarless gum. This will help you produce more saliva. Saliva helps decrease bad breath.
  • Go the dentist at least 2 times a year for an exam and teeth cleaning. Your dentist can help prevent or treat bad breath or other problems with your teeth or mouth.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause bad breath. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your bad breath does not go away or gets worse.
  • You have bad breath and any of the following:
    • Loose teeth
    • Painful, swollen gums that bleed easily
    • Fever or sore throat
    • Coughing up mucus
    • Green or yellow drainage from your nose
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.