Is bad breath a sign of illness

Halitosis is the medical term used to describe chronically bad breath. Bad breath may be caused by something simple like what the patient ate, or can be more serious and suggest the presence of an oral health or medical issue. This article will review common causes for chronic bad breath or halitosis.

Oral Health

In most cases, a patient’s bad breath is due to bad oral hygiene practices or neglect. Patients who fail to properly clean their teeth and mouth allow for the accumulation of food particles and debris. Over time, a sticky buildup of bacteria or plaque forms on the teeth. The tongue can also collect food particles and bacteria and be the cause of bad breath. Patients who do not practice good oral hygiene are at risk for other oral health issues like cavities and gum disease. Patients should be consistent in the oral hygiene with twice daily brushing, flossing daily, and regular visits to the dentist.

Food and Beverages

Certain types of foods such as onions, garlic, some vegetables, and spices can cause bad breath when they are consumed. These food particles enter the bloodstream when consumed where they are carried to the lungs. The bad odor is obvious each time the patient exhales.

Coffee can have an intense flavor and also be the culprit for bad breath. Drinking coffee can result in a reduced production of saliva. When the mouth produces less saliva, it allows for an increase in the bacteria which causes odor. Food particles can also remain in the mouth longer than normal, which also results in bad breath.


A diet which includes consuming large amounts of sugar or protein can also be the cause of bad breath. Sugar can allow for the buildup of plaque. Because of how sugar interacts with and feeds on the bacteria already in the mouth, it can be the cause of halitosis.

Patients who consume a diet which includes high amounts of protein or low amounts of carbohydrates, can directly cause bad breath. Patients who do not eat enough carbs can modify the body’s metabolism and how the body produces energy, potentially leading to bad breath.

It can be challenging for the body to digest high-protein foods and also result in an increase in sulfurous gasses. Patients should focus on eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.


The consumption of alcohol can be another common cause of bad breath. When patients drink alcohol, especially when it is consumed in excess amounts, the mouth produces less saliva. Again, this creates the ideal environment for odor-causing bacteria.

Smoking Habits

Tobacco can not only be the cause of a patient’s bad breath, but can also result in other serious health problems. Smoking can also be a common cause for gum disease.

Digestion Challenges

Patients with poor digestion, constipation, acid reflux, or bowel disorders may also struggle with bad breath. These issues can result in odors from food which was recently consumed that makes its way back up the esophagus.

Dry Mouth

Saliva aids in keeping the mouth clean through the removal of food particles which cause bad breath. When the mouth is chronically dry, it often results in bad breath over time. The body produces less saliva while we are sleeping, resulting in stinky breath when we wake up. Patients who are concerned with their saliva production should follow up with the dentist to discuss their options..


Some types of medications can cause the mouth to be especially dry. A dry mouth means there is a decrease in saliva production, causing a perfect environment for bacteria which causes bad odor in the mouth. There are also certain medications which cause the release of chemicals that are carried through the bloodstream and into the patient’s breath.

Patients with bad breath should follow up with their dentist to determine the cause and work on treating the issue.

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