Bad breath (halitosis) 


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

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.

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2014

Next review due: 04/04/2016


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The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

JonnyPop said on 19 December 2012

Following on from my previous comment, I realise that it may help to go into further detail regarding my course of homeopathic treatment.

The initial 60-minute consultation was pretty extensive and included me talking about my family, childhood, traumatic experiences and other instances of ill health (I also suffer from Alopecia) and past visits to the hospital (i.e. broken bones). It felt rather like a therapy or counseling session.

The doctor then asked me to lay down on a bed while she administered a form of Japanese acupuncture. This lasted for around 20 minutes. Following that, she performed some New Age-type exercises that helped her form a diagnosis.

The 50ml bottle of drops prescribed to me helps to aid digestion. I take 30 drops in water three times per day just before eating.

The tea that I drink three times per day consists of the following ingredients...

- Passion flower/fruit herbs
- Hypericum herbs
- Oat straw
- Camomile flowers
- Barberry
- Linseed
- Flax seeds
- Blackthorn
- Bitter fennel
- Caraway seeds

As homeopathy is a very personalised form of treatment, I wouldn't recommend simply replicating the above ingredients, you'll need to take a combination of ingredients specific to your own situation. However, I've posted my tea ingredients because I think it'll help people get a better idea of what's actually involved in this form of alternative medicine.

I appreciate that this must sound like a load of mumbo-jumbo but it has honestly made a difference to my bad breath - and more so than any western/traditional medicine.

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JonnyPop said on 19 December 2012

To everyone feeling depressed about having chronic bad breath, don't lose hope, there really are solutions to this frustrating problem.

My girlfriend first told me that I suffered from bad breath six months ago, though the likelihood is I've had it much longer and other people were too scared or embarrassed to tell me. It was hard for me to initially accept that I had bad breath, not to mention extremely embarrassing and a blow to my confidence and self-esteem.

What was most frustrating, however, was that I actually couldn't tell that I had bad breath. My girlfriend was on the receiving end of it, and noticed it especially after I ate, whenever I physically exerted myself, or when I was stressed. Needless to say, it took a toll on our relationship, as the bad breath inhibited us from getting close or intimiate.

Having tried to remedy the problem myself with regular brushing, mouthwash and a tongue scraper, I visited 2 different dentists only to be told that my teeth and gums were absolutely fine and not the cause of my bad breath.

Following that I also visited 2 different GPs. The first prescribed me an over-the-counter bacterial mouthwash, which temporarily eradicated the problem for a week or so, while the other referred me for a gastroscopy, which again showed no connection to my bad breath.

Most recently, I visited a homeopathic doctor who, following an hour-long consultation, concluded that the cause of my bad breath emanated from my stomach due to an internal imbalance that resulted in poor digestion.

She prescribed a concoction of mixed herbs to be taken as cups of tea 3 times per day, along with some drops (also to be taken before eating 3 times per day). I've been taking the treatment for about a week now and my bad breath has, I've been told, almost completely gone! I still can't quite believe it.

It's early days (the treatment lasts 1 month), but I'm feeling much more optimistic and seriously recommend consulting a homeopath.

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JackyLloyd said on 23 October 2012

I have had this problem since a teenager, I gave up smoking, still got it, gave up drinking, still got it, only drink peppermint tea, still got it, I'm at my wits ends, I brush my teeeth 2 - 3 times a day and floss once. What more can I do please, its crippling my social life!

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simply said on 07 August 2012

mister b and User586251, I to am in the exact same boat. Not a bad looking guy and I have also had bad breath since high school and have tried every solution dentists, doctors and the internet advised. It's not an easy subject for me and like the two of you, It's slowly but surly killing any social life i have left. User586251 said it best when talking to others and they feel like their the victim. If only they knew. I know this might sound strange but, it gave me a bit of comfort knowing i'm not alone and I thank all of you for sharing your side. I've come to the point now that i take mouth wash with me every where I go and only talk to people when there is no other option.
mister b, i know exactly how you feel when you say that you don't go near colleagues at work and that they talk about you. I've got that same issue. I'm at the end of the line here and i'm desperate for something that can make me sit with people without wondering if they can smell my breath.

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Helloooo said on 29 January 2012

I have had this taste in back of my mouth and bad breath and sometimes i cough up a white bit like rice even when i haven't had rice, yes i know weird, so i looked it up to see what it could be and came up with tonsils stones, never heard of that before so if you have got your tonsils in still, just look into it, what you got to lose

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User586251 said on 23 August 2011

Dear Mr B, I know exactly how you feel. I complained to my doctor, several times, over several years, When I was finally taken seriously I was referred to the hospital who said it was constitutional, i.e. get on with it! My teeth & mouth is in excellent quality - my dentist & doctor have both confirmed this. I guess it is just the way we are but I just cannot accept in this day & age there is nothing that can be done!!! Like you, i am a reasonably presentable person but this effects my life too & I hate that people think that when they talk to someone with bad breath how horrible it is for them (poor souls) but they have no idea what it feels like to be the sufferer, I firmly believe it is a million times worse than us. I know it is not much comfort but you are not alone.

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Bugli said on 29 July 2011

I've had bad breath since I was 15 years of age. My two daughters have bad breath and they are only 5 and 10 years old. I think the problem is diet related. You need to cut out protein and dairy products from your diet and drink plenty of water along with good oral hygiene.

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verygen said on 22 May 2011

I think everyone gets a bit of bad breath sometimes so try not to feel down. My teenage son seems to get it and I wonder if its somehow to do with his hormones. I'm thinking of going down the herbal route and taking him to see a herbalist or maybe a nutritionist as I don't want him to feel self conscious. Its puzzling as the dentist says his teeth and gums are fine.
I hope you find a solution to the problem. I'm sure there is one out there.

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mister b said on 15 May 2011

I have suffered with bad breath since I was a teenager and it has ruined my personal and professional life. I have had several operations to remove tonsils and on my nose as well as asking the dentist and trying every mouthwash under the sun. GP's have told me to gargle salt water and some have said it's just the way some people are and there's nothing that can be done other than the usual brushing and mouthwash.

I daren't go near anyone at work and I know my colleagues and friends talk about me. I have very few friends and rarely see them. I have had relationships but I cannot relax in intimate situations and constantly brush my teeth and chew gum.

I thought I could deal with just being the way I am and keeping away from others as much as possible, but it's now getting too much and I'm living almost a life of solitude. I feel too embarrassed to talk to family or friends. I'm a reasonable looking guy and I've become a recluse with no hope of ever having a wife or family of my own.

I feel pathetic and despise myself.

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