HEALTH TALK: Bad breath – halitosis


One of the most difficult things to tell someone, such as a friend, is that he or she has bad breath.  And one of the most embarrassing things to experience, I would think, is to see someone reacting to your bad breath, like suddenly pulling their head away from you or speaking to you at an angle. But isn’t it amazing that some persons with halitosis seem either to be unaware or unconcerned about it? And that these are the ones who talk the most and want to come up within an inch of your face?

Mints, mouthwashes and other products for halitosis are all over shop and supermarket shelves.  Yet they only control halitosis temporarily, and may be less effective in controlling halitosis than simply rinsing your mouth with water after brushing and flossing your teeth.

Certain foods, health conditions and habits cause halitosis. Often halitosis can be improved with proper dental hygiene.

If simple self-care techniques don’t solve the problem, you may want to see your doctor or dentist to make sure a more serious condition isn’t causing your halitosis.


Surely you want to know what causes halitosis (so you can try to prevent it).  The causes are numerous, and include the following. By the way, please don’t stop the wonderful exercise of kissing, but it might be interesting to know that your mouth harbors the greatest variety of bacteria and is your dirtiest organ as a result.

* FOOD: Breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth can cause a foul odor.  Eating foods containing vegetable oils is another source of halitosis. Onions and garlic are the best known examples, but other vegetables and spices are culprits as well.  After these foods are digested and the pungent oils are absorbed into your bloodstream, they’re carried to your lungs and are given off in your breath until the food is eliminated from your body.

Alcohol behaves in the same way.  This is why alcohol levels can be measured by breath tests.  Alcohol itself has no odor, however. The characteristic smell on your breath is mainly odor of other components of the beverage.

* DENTAL PROBLEMS: Poor dental hygiene and gum disease can cause halitosis. (By the way, this may seem like a piece a dentist should have written, but when you read the entire article, you can see where doctors feature heavily).  If you don’t brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth collecting bacteria and emitting hydrogen sulphur vapors.  For those of you who don’t know, hydrogen sulphide is the stuff of rotten eggs, so no more needs to be said.  A colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your teeth.

If not brushed away, plaque can irritate your gums (gingivitis) and cause tooth decay (rottening).  Eventually, plaque-filled pockets can form between your teeth and gums, worsening this problem – and your breath.  Dentures that are not cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly also can harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles.

Saliva helps cleanse and moisten your mouth. A dry mouth enables dead cells to accumulate on your tongue, gums, and cheeks.  These cells decompose and cause odor.  Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep, even for an hour or two.  It’s what’s causes “morning breath.”  Dry mouth is even more of a problem if you sleep with your mouth open.  Some medications as well as smoking can lead to a chronic dry mouth, as can a problem with your salivary glands.

* DISEASE: Chronic lung infections and lung abscesses can produce very foul-smelling breath.  Several illnesses can cause a distinctive breath odor.  Kidney failure can cause a urine-like odor, and liver failure can cause an odor described as “fishy.” Persons with uncontrolled diabetes may have a fruity (aromatic) breath odor.  Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can produce bad breath.

* MOUTH, NOSE AND THROAT CONDITIONS: Halitosis is also associated with sinus infections, because nasal discharge from your sinuses draining into the back of your throat can cause mouth odor.  A child with halitosis may have a foreign object lodged in his or her nose.  A bean or small item stuck in the nose can cause persistent nasal discharge and a foul odor.  Sore throat, tonsillitis and mononucleosis can cause halitosis until the throat infection clears. Bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections in which you cough up odorous sputum (phlegm) are other sources of halitosis.

Smoking dries out your mouth and causes its own unpleasant mouth odor.  Tobacco users are more likely to have gum disease, an additional source of bad breath.

* SEVERE DIETING: Dieters may develop unpleasant “fruity” breath from ketoacidosis, the breakdown of chemicals during fasting.


•    When halitosis persists despite proper dental hygiene.
•    If halitosis persists despite self-care (see below). See your dentist.
•    When the cause isn’t dental, in which case you may need to see a doctor for a full evaluation to determine an underlying cause.


Try the following steps to improve or prevent bad breath.

•    Brush your teeth after you eat. Keep a toothbrush at work to brush after eating.
•    Floss at least once a day. This removes food particles and plaque from between your teeth.
•    BRUSH YOUR TONGUE.  You may be surprised how much this helps to remove odor-causing dead cells, bacteria and food debris that get trapped in the grooves of your tongue.
•    Drink plenty of water.  This keeps your mouth moist. Chewing a sugarless gum or sucking sugarless candy stimulates saliva, washing away food particles and bacteria.  If you have chronic dry mouth, your doctor or dentist may prescribe an artificial saliva preparation or an oral medication that stimulates the flow of saliva.

The rest is really for the dentist, so I’m going to stop here.

See you next week.

Dr. Victor Emanuel has been an educator of medical professionals in training, and the public, for over 20 years in Dominica. The contents of his articles are based on facts and research conducted, and not of his opinion.

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  1. political correctness
    September 27, 2010

    thanks for the tips doc, some persons do need it. What amazes me is that some persons dont know they suffer from the illness, if i have bad breath i kno, and yes they do love to speak in ur face. i have experienced it at work, but its uncomfortable to tell the person they have bad breath so i offer a gum or buy mouth wash etc.

  2. Londonican
    September 23, 2010

    As expected the comments are few. If it was politics you would see how many there would be. very informative stuff.

  3. tim tim
    September 22, 2010

    excellent topic thank you doc.For that very imformative message.

  4. Charmer
    September 22, 2010

    I commend the writer for his very informative topics. Thanks to the Doc and to D.N.O.

  5. angel
    September 22, 2010

    i support these educational stuff . thanks to the writer . this is better than the political rubbish that qfm talk every dam day .

  6. September 22, 2010

    Good Information..

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