Bad breath, also called halitosis, refers to an unpleasant, unusual, or offensive odor to the breath.
Bad breath can be caused by factors within the mouth, which are referred to as local factors. It may also be caused by systemic factors, which means bodywide diseases or conditions.
A person who has bad breath may not be aware of the odor. However, his or her acquaintances and the healthcare provider are generally aware of the problem.
Following are some local causes of bad breath: poor oral hygienesmokingtooth abscessimpacted wisdom toothcertain foods, such as garlicnot eating for a long timealcoholmouth or throat infections, such as strep throatgingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gumsperiodontitis, or an inflammation of the structures supporting the toothsinus infectioncold or flunose infectionovergrown tonsils catching food, which is common in children
Some systemic, or bodywide, causes of bad breath include the following: drugs and medicationskidney diseaselung abscess, or pus pocket within the lungsbronchitisconditions that cause dry mouth, such as Sjogren syndromestomach or bowel problemsconstipationpoorly controlled diabetesliver diseasecertain kinds of cancerinfection with the AIDS virus
Prevention of bad breath starts with good oral hygiene. People should brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss teeth daily. Removable dentures should be taken out at night, cleaned, and soaked overnight. Mouthwash is not an effective treatment for bad breath, since it hides the real cause. Mouthwash can also irritate the tissue in the mouth. Mouthwash and breath mints are only temporary solutions and may mask more serious problems. Also, some breath mints may contain sugars, which can cause cavities.
Someone in good health may have bad breath at times, such as in the morning after a long sleep. However, a person with persistent bad breath should see a healthcare professional.
It is difficult to self-diagnose bad breath. If bad breath is suspected, an examination by a healthcare professional might be needed. If an underlying disease or condition is suggested by a history and physical, further tests may be ordered.
Bad breath itself has no long-term effects. However, an underlying disease, such as diabetes or periodontal (gum) disease can cause significant problems if it goes untreated.
Bad breath is not contagious and poses no risk to others. However, an underlying disorder such as AIDS may be highly contagious.
If improving home oral hygiene does not remove the bad breath, a healthcare professional should be seen. Once the cause of bad breath is found, the problem is usually solved quickly.
There are no side effects to good oral hygiene.
Once bad breath is eliminated, there should be no further treatment.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.