Also known as halitosis, bad breath is that embarrassing odor that emanates from your mouth at seemingly the worst of times. Whether suffering from a daily case of morning breath, which affects nearly everyone, or a more persistent problem that you can’t seem to shake, bad breath can be caused by a number of different factors.

Studies have estimated that around 80 million Americans suffer from chronic bad breath, so don’t feel alone on this. In fact, bad breath is the third most common reason that people visit the dentist for. In this article, we’re going to cover the various causes of bad breath as well as different treatment options so you can get back to enjoying life with minty fresh breath.

What Causes Bad Breath

Unfortunately, while it’s easy to diagnose halitosis, things get a little tricky when trying to pinpoint the exact cause. Below, we’ve covered some of the most common (and not so common) causes of bad breath so you can get a better idea of the culprit in your case.

1. Poor Dental Hygiene
The most common cause of bad breath is the breakdown of food particles that are leftover in the mouth due to poor dental hygiene habits. When food gets stuck between your teeth and around the gums, sulfur-producing bacteria that live on the surface of the tongue and at the back of the throat continue to break down food particles and release an unpleasant odor as a byproduct.

Now, you may be wondering why it is you have bad breath every morning if you thoroughly brushed and flossed the night before. The reason almost everyone experiences morning breath (also sometimes called dragon breath) is because when we sleep, saliva production naturally slows down which causes the mouth to dry out more than usual. As a consequence, this creates an environment in which bacteria can thrive, hence the bad odors when you wake up.

2. Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease, the advanced form of gingivitis, is another common cause of bad breath. When plaque is allowed to build up along the gumline for a prolonged period of time, eventually pockets will form between the gums and teeth, allowing bacteria to become trapped. Because this bacteria cannot be reached with simple brushing and flossing habits, it’s free to continue producing unpleasant odors as food particles make their way to the pockets.

3. Dry Mouth
As we touched on before, dry mouth can lead to a bacterial outbreak that constantly produces bad odors. Outside of the morning breath phenomenon that pretty much everyone experiences, chronic dry mouth can be caused by a number of different factors. Though this isn’t a complete list, regular alcohol consumption, excessive stress, medications with side effects, and even certain health conditions can cause dry mouth.

4. Diseases
If you have perfect dental hygiene and regularly visit the dentist for cleanings but still experience chronic bad breath, it’s possible that the root of the problem comes from a different health issue. Diseases like cancer, liver disease, and metabolic disease are all examples of health problems that can cause halitosis. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another common disease that causes bad breath due to the constant presence of stomach acids.

5. Less Common Causes
Lastly, there are a number of more uncommon causes that affect only very few people experiencing chronic bad breath. To name a few, bowel obstructions, lung infections, and ketoacidosis in people with diabetes can all potentially cause bad breath. Though there are many more, it’s best to let a healthcare professional diagnose the problem.

How to Treat Bad Breath

Because bad breath can be caused by so many different factors, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach. That being said, many of the halitosis causes can be traced back to poor dental hygiene so one of the best ways to begin treating and preventing bad breath is by adopting a better, more thorough dental routine.

1. Better Dental Hygiene
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes is the widely accepted standard that greatly helps prevent the buildup of plaque and odor-causing bacteria in the mouth. It’s also recommended that you floss at least once per day to ensure you’re dislodging any food particles that have become stuck between teeth and around the gum lines. In addition to brushing and flossing, we recommend replacing your toothbrush every 3-4 months to prevent excessive bacterial growth, and using a toothpaste that has the ADA seal of approval.

2. Stay Hydrated
If you suffer from dry mouth, one of the best things you can do in addition to improving your dental hygiene is stay hydrated. Avoiding substances that dehydrate the mouth such as tobacco and alcohol are a good start, but if you still find that drinking plenty of water isn’t doing the trick, you can try gum or sugar-free candy to help stimulate the production of saliva. When all else fails, you can ask your doctor to prescribe medication specifically for chronic dry mouth.

3. Dental Visit
If you’ve tried all of the above tips and still can’t shake your chronic bad breath, it’s time for a visit to the dentist. Because dentists have a trained eye for identifying the root of the problem, you can save yourself a lot of frustration and time by allowing them to pinpoint the exact cause. Once they’ve identified the issue, your dentist can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan.