Common Causes of Bad Breath

By Premier Dental of Ohio

The causes of bad breath

It happens to the best of us: BAD BREATH!

Also called halitosis, bad breath can lead to embarrassment or even avoidance of social situations.  This blog will highlight the most common causes of bad breath, and what you can do about them!

Gum Disease

In general, the most common cause of bad breath is an overgrowth of smelly bacteria in your mouth.  There are many factors leading to an overgrowth of this bacteria.  A big one is gum disease.

Gum disease starts when plaque buildup sits on the teeth for an extended period of time.  Plaque contains bacteria, food debris, and dead skin cells.  Plaque is soft, and you can remove it easily with a toothbrush and floss.

When you do not remove plaque, the body responds with inflammation.  The inflammation causes redness, swelling, and bleeding.  It also causes the gums and bone to detach from the tooth, leading to a pocket.

Pockets between the gums and the teeth are perfect hiding places for communities of bacteria.  These hiding places become breeding grounds, and the bacteria multiplies uninterrupted.  Until we interrupt it, that is.

The way to stop the bad breath caused by gum disease is to interrupt that bacterial multiplication with a professional teeth cleaning!  Having your teeth cleaned by a licensed dental hygienist removes the plaque buildup from the pockets around the teeth, disrupting the smelly process of the bacteria.

Now your job is to keep your teeth clean at home by having great oral hygiene.  Make sure to brush properly twice a day, floss every night before bed, and use a mouthrinse to flush away plaque.


Just like gum disease, cavities are caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in plaque.  If it has been a while since your last professional teeth cleaning, or you know you are missing certain areas when you clean your teeth at home, you could be at risk for cavities.

As cavities grow, the bacteria break through the outer shell of enamel and work their way into the tooth.  As they move inward, the tooth itself becomes soft and mushy, even leaving a hole.  The hole quickly fills with plaque and food debris.  It’s like a tiny kitchen trash can.  It stinks!

To correct bad breath caused by cavities, a dentist must treat the cavities, removing all the bacteria and filling in the hole.

Again, your job is to keep the teeth clean in order to prevent new cavities from developing.

Dry Mouth

Another cause of bad breath is a chronically dry mouth.  Dry mouth can be the result of prescription medications or a malfunction in the salivary glands.  Saliva is SO important to our mouths.

Saliva performs many important functions, including lubrication of the inside of the mouth, the first step in breaking down food, and fighting the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

When you do not have enough saliva, there are two different ways your dry mouth contributes to bad breath:

  1. Because saliva fights bacteria, a lack of saliva allows bacteria to multiply more than normal. This overgrowth will lead to bad breath.
  2. A dry mouth is more prone to cavities and gum disease, which cause bad breath.

If you suffer from dry mouth, you need to discuss it with your dentist.  You are at high risk for different types of dental disease.

You should also use alcohol-free oral hygiene products and chew sugar-free gum when possible.  This helps stimulate saliva naturally.


This may seem like a no-brainer: some people have bad breath because they eat pungent foods like garlic and raw onions.  After eating food with a strong smell, you should rinse your mouth thoroughly with an alcohol-free mouthrinse.  If you have time, also brush and floss to remove any lingering smelly food debris.  Drink plenty of water, as foods that dehydrate you and dry your mouth out will only worsen your breath.

Sinus Issues/Postnasal Drip

There are a few causes of bad breath that start in areas of the body other than the mouth.  Chronic sinus infections and postnasal drip are an example of these causes.  These, like the problems in the mouth, result from an overgrowth of bacteria.  This time, the bacteria are hanging out in the sinus cavities, the back of the nose, or even in the tonsils.

If you suffer from chronic bad breath and have ruled out any of the possible causes inside the mouth, your next step is to evaluate the sinuses and nasal passages.  Ask your dentist or primary care doctor to refer you to an ENT.

GI Problems

Lastly, one other source of bad breath outside of the mouth is in the gastrointestinal tract.  Studies show that patients suffering from bad breath without dental origins often have infections in their stomachs or intestines.  In these cases, when the GI problems received proper treatment, the bad breath improved.

If your bad breath persists after ruling out dental and ENT-related problems, the next step is to evaluate your gut.  Ask your medical doctor for a referral to a GI specialist to find out if gut problems could be giving you bad breath.

Do You Have Problems with Bad Breath?

If you suffer from persistent bad breath, come see us!  Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our dentists.  We will perform a thorough oral evaluation, let you know of any contributing dental factors, and help you get on the path to fresh breath every day!

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