Introduction 

Bad breath is a common problem that can affect anyone at any age.

About one in four people are thought to have bad breath (halitosis) on a regular basis.

What causes bad breath?

Bad breath can be the result of numerous things, but it's usually caused by poor oral hygiene. If bacteria builds up in your mouth, it can cause your breath to smell. 

Bacteria break down pieces of food in the mouth, releasing unpleasant-smelling gas. Any food trapped in your teeth will be broken down by bacteria, causing bad breath.

Persistent bad breath can sometimes be a sign of gum disease.

Eating strongly flavoured foods, such as onions and garlic, can also cause your breath to smell, as can smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol.

Occasionally, bad breath can occur following an infection or illness, or as a result of taking certain types of medication.

Read more about the causes of bad breath.

Treating and preventing bad breath

Improving oral hygiene is usually enough to cure bad breath and prevent it happening again.

Your dentist can advise you about ways to improve your oral health and will recommend:

  • regularly brushing your teeth and gums
  • flossing between your teeth
  • keeping your tongue clean

Read more about treating and preventing bad breath.

When to see your GP

If you still have bad breath after making changes to your dental hygiene, see your GP. There may be a medical cause that needs investigating.

Don't try to hide the smell of your breath before visiting your dentist or GP, because it will make it more difficult for them to find out what's causing the problem.

Do I have bad breath?

It's not always easy to tell if you have bad breath. Other people may notice it first, but could feel uncomfortable telling you.

A simple test to find out whether you have bad breath is to lick the inside of your wrist with the back of your tongue and wait for a few seconds until the saliva dries. If your wrist smells unpleasant, it's likely your breath does too.

Bad breath

Learn about the causes of bad breath, how to prevent it and what to do if you already have it. Part of a series on embarrassing conditions.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

Dental health

How to care for your teeth, including check-ups, brushing, braces and whitening

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2014

Next review due: 04/04/2016