Bad breath, known clinically as halitosis, is relatively standard. It can be the result of eating certain foods like garlic or onions. In many cases, using mouthwash, brushing your teeth, or slipping yourself a mint can help tackle bad breath. However, this won’t fix persistent and chronic halitosis — bad breath that doesn’t vanish is a sign of underlying physical or oral health problems.
Keep reading for how to get rid of bad breath and discover the conditions, risk factors, and causes.
How to treat your bad breath and get rid of it for good
Since halitosis is a sign of underlying oral or physical issues, getting rid of it means getting to the condition’s root causes. Medical and dental treatments, medications, surgeries, or changing lifestyle habits can be crucial in getting rid of bad breath.
The treatment approach periodontists (gum specialists) and dentists take to halitosis depends on the underlying cause. Numerous cases are related to tartar and plaque, bacterial buildup in the gums, mouth, and teeth. This prompts several dental treatments, including:
- Mouth rinses — Mouth rinses that are medicated with washes that target bacteria in the mouth. Your periodontist or dentist could recommend solutions of antibacterial agents like zinc, cetylpyridinium chloride, zinc, and tricolosan.
- Mechanical debridement — Halitosis is often tied to a buildup of a biofilm layer, or bacteria, on the teeth and tongue. Mechanical debridement uses a brush or scraper on the tongue to remove it.
- Root planning and scaling — Periodontists and dentists use root planning and scaling to treat periodontitis (gum infection) and gingivitis (gum disease) by removing bacteria that cause bad breath. They use implements to scrape buildup along the teeth, under the gumline, at their roots, and in the pockets between them.
Habits and lifestyle
Poor hygiene is the leading cause of halitosis. There are many habits you can adopt and changes you can make to promote teeth and mouth help and prevent bad breath, including:
- Flossing and brushing — Brush your teeth well after eating and floss daily. Also, use mouthwash with zinc, which is effective for bad breath.
- Changes in diet — Minimize pickled foods, onions, garlic, and spices in your diet, as they can cause your breath to become stinky.
- Tongue scraping — Using a special scraper, you can mechanically debride at home to remove biofilm caused by halitosis on the tongue.
- Clean your dentures — Dentures or false teeth can be reservoirs of bacteria caused by halitosis; sanitizing and cleaning them thoroughly and regularly can prevent chronic bad breath.
- Avoid tobacco — Freshening up your breath is one of the many benefits of quitting smoking; not only does smoking cause bad breath directly, but it also causes dry mouth, which often leads to halitosis.
- Natural treatments — Several natural home remedies for bad breath include chewing certain herbs, drinking green tea, and mouthwashes with essential oils.
- Avoiding dry mouth — Keep your mouth moist, especially by drinking plenty of water; avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can also cause dry mouth.
- Stimulate saliva — Your dentist could recommend chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate the production of saliva, which protects the mouth from bacteria.
Natural treatments for halitosis
Numerous naturally derived home remedies and products may help with halitosis. They include:
- Green tea — Researchers found green tea compounds and polyphenols could be effective against halitosis caused by the Solobacterium moorei bacteria.
- Essential oils — Swishing solutions of essential oils or mouthwash containing them may have an antimicrobial effect, preventing bad breath. Researchers found that tea tree oil is pretty effective, with some evidence that others, including myrtle, thyme, lemongrass, and eucalyptus, can also help. Although mouthwashes are not meant to be ingested, ensure the oils you use are safe if swallowed accidentally.
- Chewing herbs — Chewing seeds or herbs, including parsley, rosemary, spearmint, or fennel, are popular to cover odors and help with bad breath.
- Home-made mouthwash — One common home remedy involves making mouthwash with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate); another study found it effective for halitosis and other treatments.
Surgeries and medications
Some cases of halitosis arise from health conditions not involving the mouth, requiring treatment or medications. Antacids can help ease symptoms when gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic type of heartburn — is the underlying cause.
Bacterial respiratory infections or bronchitis can cause bad breath so that a healthcare provider could prescribe antibiotics for the infection.
- Infected adenoids — Glands found above the mouth and behind your nose — also cause bad breath. Surgery to remove these glands or an adenoidectomy reduces the odor of your breath and treats the infection.
Some instances of halitosis can also be treated with photodynamic therapy. This involves the direction of laser beams and radio waves to kill bacteria in your mouth. In a research review published in 2022, the authors found this reduces levels of volatile sulfur compounds that cause halitosis.
Chronic bad breath: Why can’t you seem to get rid of it?
Chronic halitosis can be a symptom of diseases or dental issues. Additionally, specific lifestyle habits and behavioral patterns can put you more at risk. If you cannot get rid of halitosis, the reason could be that you are not managing the cause.
Risk factors and causes
Halitosis occurs when chemicals known as volatile compounds (VSCs), including methyl mercaptan, hydrogen sulfide, and dimethyl sulfide, are exhaled. These compounds are produced by different bacteria coating parts of your throat, tongue, and mouth.
A broad range of conditions can cause bad breath, raising your risk of chronic halitosis, including:
- Dry mouth — Drinking alcohol, smoking, certain medications, and other factors can cause dry mouth, known as xerostomia; insufficient saliva allows bacteria that cause bad breath to thrive.
- Oral diseases — Dental issues like decay or loss, gum disease, gum infection, and tooth abscess cause 80% to 90% of cases of halitosis.
- Digestive conditions — Chronic bad breath can also result from a hiatal hernia, gastrointestinal tract disease, or GERD.
- Chronic disease — Liver issues, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure are among many chronic conditions that can additionally cause halitosis.
- Respiratory conditions — Diseases and infections of the sinuses and respiratory system, such as tonsilitis, bronchitis, sinusitis, and others, can contribute to bad breath.
When should you see a dentist?
Although it’s normal to have occasional bad breath, it is worth getting dental help if it continues. This is particularly the case if the halitosis lingers despite changes to oral hygiene and lifestyle habits. Call a dentist if you experience any other dental symptoms or have bad breath despite flossing and brushing regularly and using mouthwash.
Because halitosis can have a significant impact on mental health — and be an indicator of more severe issues — the sooner you take control of your halitosis, the better you will be. Understanding the cause of the problem is the first step in figuring out how to treat the issue.