My breath smells bad! What do I do?

8th December 2018 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

Out and about, meeting, greeting, chatting or hoping to impress, we certainly don’t want the person we’re talking to feeling uncomfortable. Or, even worse, turn away. So a question we need to ask ourselves before we step through our front door is, “Does my breath smell bad?”

How do I know?

The truth is that we may not realise how bad our breath smells.

How often, for example, has a smoker stood next to you, and you’ve noticed straight away that stale, used-tobacco smell. Or you’ve caught a strong whiff of food flavours when someone breathed in your direction? Some of us don’t always realise how our breath smells while some of us are overly self-conscious of our breath when it’s actually fine. It’s hard to tell for ourselves.

If you are concerned about your breath, then it’s best to turn to someone you trust. Ask them to let you know when your breath is less than perfect.

male female couple winter avoid breath smells bad

Bad breath isn’t a joke.

Often a source for teasing, bullying or low humour, halitosis is not a laughing matter for anyone who suffers from it. It can cause social insecurities, affect our acceptance with our peers, even influence our promotion opportunities at work. It is also cited as a common reason for being turned down for a second date.

Why does my breath smell bad?

Most people suffer from unpleasant breath at some time or another. One sign might be a nasty taste in the mouth, or bleeding gums symptomatic of gum disease needing attention.

Most often bad breath starts in the mouth:

Some causes are linked to general health issues:

How can I get rid of bad breath?

In the short term, a cover up helps. Cleaning our teeth more often, using mouth wash, eating sugar-free mints or chewing gum help mask the problem.

For lasting results, however, it’s important to treat the cause of the problem that contributes to bad breath, not just try to conceal it.

  1. Begin by stepping up your oral hygiene routine. All you need to do is nip out to the chemist or local shops for any products you’re missing, and you can get started straight away.

  2. Review your habits, and make some lifestyle changes.

    • Make tooth brushing twice a day, and flossing at least once, part of your daily routine. Consider upgrading to an electric toothbrush. And regardless of the brush you use, change it as soon as the head shows signs of wear.
    • Smoking leaves a smell on your breath, in your hair, and on your clothes. But worse than that, it damages the gums, altering their blood flow. It means that when you have gum disease, which smokers are more prone to develop, your gums don’t bleed so easily to warn you. It’s certainly worth quitting. 
    • Reduce alcohol, as it can affect the production of saliva. Saliva cleans the mouth and protects against bacteria. Alcoholism may lead to personal neglect, including poor oral hygiene.
    • Spicy or heavily flavoured foods affect the way our breath smells. Drink water with your meal and afterwards. Also eat your parsley garnish, chew a clove or, if opportunity allows, rinse with some mouthwash.
  3. Tackle any causes of bad breath that originate in your mouth.

    • Your dentist will be able to identify and treat tooth decay, gum disease and other oral infections, such as an abscess.
    • If you have a bridge or dentures, the dentist will check the fit, and surrounding gum tissue.
    • Regular dental hygiene appointments help maintain a healthier, cleaner-smelling mouth. Professional cleaning of the teeth and gum margin reduces tartar, so odour-creating bacteria have fewer places to hide.
  4. Investigate other causes of bad breath.

    • Make an appointment with your doctor if you think that side-effects from medication are impacting on your oral health. There may be an alternative you can try.
    • Your doctor can also advise on regimes to improve your general health, such as diet or other life-style changes.

Short term fixes:

  • Avoid food or drink that causes bad breath. Garlic is the obvious one, but others include: coffee, any alcohol, fish, eggs, ketchup, and even butter.
  • Chew gum with xylitol, which helps produce bacteria-fighting saliva, and use a mouth wash.
  • Buy a new toothbrush, some dental floss, interdental brushes, and try gentle tongue scraping too.

Long term solutions:

  • Make an appointment to see the dentist, as gum disease and tooth decay cause bad breath.
  • Visit the hygienist, for professional tooth cleaning that really gets into the places where bacteria linger.
  • Act on advice about following a good oral hygiene routine.

Does saliva help keep our breath fresh?

Saliva works continuously to clean the mouth and reduce acidity, rinsing away food particles as well as reducing bacteria. A dry mouth allows bacteria to flourish.  Dry mouth caused by low functioning salivary glands is called Xerostomia, and can be a complication of diabetes, or radiation treatment, for example.

However, even people with properly functioning salivary glands can suffer from a temporarily dry mouth, during exercise, for example, in hot weather, and simply through not drinking sufficient water.

Drinking water regularly is a great way of stimulating the salivary glands, as well as keeping the mouth fresher.

Are you concerned about breath odour?

Be sure to make an appointment with your dentist.

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Updated: 2nd August 2020

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