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Root Causes of Bad Breath

Posted on July 12, 2023

Understanding what causes bad breath can help you prevent it and maintain a fresh mouth. While bad breath is sometimes inevitable, chronic or frequent bad breath indicates that more oral care is necessary. Proper oral hygiene and regular dentist visits are the most important ways to prevent and treat bad breath.

What Is Bad Breath?

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, causes an unpleasant odor. Individuals with halitosis may notice an unpleasant odor or taste in their mouths, and others may also notice it. Everyone experiences occasional bad breath, but frequent or chronic bad breath can indicate an underlying cause or condition an individual needs to address.

What Causes Bad Breath?

Understanding the cause of bad breath can help you prevent and treat it when necessary. To maintain fresh and pleasant breath, consider the following root causes of bad breath:

Poor Oral Hygiene

Oral hygiene is vital for halitosis prevention. If you experience bad breath, it may be due to bacteria and plaque buildup in the mouth.

Brushing alone is insufficient. Proper oral hygiene addresses the entire mouth to care for the teeth, gums, tongue and spaces between the teeth. Volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) are one of the leading causes of halitosis, and they occur when bacteria coat the tongue, so paying attention to the entire mouth during your daily oral hygiene routine is essential.

Inadequate or Infrequent Professional Dental Care

While practicing proper oral hygiene at home is essential, regular dentist visits are just as necessary. You should receive a professional cleaning from a reputable dentist at least every six months. If the dentist notices periodontal problems, they may recommend you come in more frequently. Skipping dental appointments can exacerbate bad breath and cause further complications.

Low Saliva or Dry Mouth

Low Saliva or Dry Mouth

Saliva helps lower bacteria levels in the mouth. Low saliva flow allows bacteria to accumulate, increasing bad breath and potentially causing other complications such as gingivitis, periodontal disease and tooth decay. The following factors and conditions can cause low saliva:

  • Radiation and chemotherapy treatments
  • Allergy medications
  • Prescription medications
  • Dehydration
  • Nervousness or anxiety

Low saliva causes dry mouth or xerostomia, reducing the moisture your mouth needs to wash bacteria away. Not drinking enough water or taking certain medications may cause dry mouth, but people who experience chronic dry mouth should consult a health care provider. Certain prescription oral medications can help stimulate saliva flow.

Acidic, High-Sugar and Pungent Foods

Certain foods with a high acid or sugar content can cause or exacerbate bad breath. Acid reflux can occur with a highly acidic diet, and it causes stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. This flow of stomach acid can contribute to unpleasant breath odors.

A high-sugar diet can contribute to bad breath because bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar. Consuming foods with high sugar content allows bacteria to live and grow, leading to excess oral bacteria. Pungent foods contain strong natural odors that can also increase bad breath. You may experience bad breath after consuming food or beverages containing ingredients such as coffee, garlic, onions or spices.

Previous Dental Work

Previous dental work can cause bad breath if it requires an update. Old restorations and fillings can crack or wear out, leaving teeth vulnerable to bacteria and infection. Halitosis can be a sign that you need an updated filling or restoration.

Infection or Cavities

Bacteria overgrowth can cause infections or cavities. If you notice persistent bad breath, visiting a dentist is important. A dentist can examine your mouth to identify infections or cavities and provide the necessary treatment.

How to Stop Bad Breath

You can prevent bad breath with the following practices:

1. Practice Adequate Oral Hygiene

Oral hygiene is the main defense against halitosis. Ensure you perform the following tasks to maintain adequate oral hygiene:


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends brushing twice daily to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Wait approximately 30 minutes after eating or drinking anything acidic before you brush your teeth. Acids weaken tooth enamel, so waiting allows your teeth to remineralize and build the enamel back up before you brush.

Clean your mouth with an electric toothbrush to thoroughly clean your teeth, gums and tongue. An electric toothbrush vibrates and spins to dislodge particles and bacteria traditional toothbrushes may miss.


Flossing removes dental plaque from the spaces a toothbrush cannot reach, preventing decay and halitosis. You should floss at least once a day, but it is also beneficial to floss after each meal. You can floss before or after brushing, but flossing before you brush can loosen debris and make it easier to brush away.

Tongue Scraping

Tongue scraping is another essential oral hygiene practice. Removing bacteria from the tongue each time you brush helps eliminate VSCs, addressing one of the main causes of halitosis. You can clean your tongue using a toothbrush or a mechanical tongue scraper.

Oral Rinsing

Use an oral rinse after brushing, flossing and tongue-scraping to enhance freshness. You should never replace your oral hygiene practices with mouthwash, but it is an excellent addition to your routine. Use a rinse without alcohol to avoid drying and irritating the mouth.

2. Receive Regular Dental Exams and Cleanings

Visit your dentist at least twice annually for a professional cleaning and examination. A reputable dentist has the experience and training to identify oral complications, recommend necessary solutions, perform dental procedures and clean teeth thoroughly.

You should receive any procedures your dentist recommends to keep your teeth healthy and follow their suggestions for at-home oral hygiene. A dentist can inform you if you are brushing and flossing well enough, and they can provide helpful dental care tips if necessary.

3. Drink More Water

Adequate daily water intake prevents dry mouth and maintains necessary saliva flow, allowing your mouth to remove bacteria naturally. Water also helps to neutralize your mouth’s saliva pH levels, reducing bacteria growth.

4. Reduce Sugar and Acid Intake

Avoid foods high in sugar or acid. Minimizing sugar intake helps reduce bacteria in the mouth. Avoiding foods high in acid protects tooth enamel and prevents stomach acid from entering the esophagus.

5. Check Your Medications

Since some medications can cause dry mouth, talking to your doctor can help resolve bad breath in certain situations. Switching medications may improve oral odors if you currently take prescription or over-the-counter medication known to cause dry mouth.

How to Fix Bad Breath

Preventing bad breath is the best way to keep your mouth feeling fresh, but you can still experience bad breath occasionally. Following the preventive practices mentioned above can also resolve bad breath when it occurs. Brushing, flossing and tongue scraping can resolve bad breath quickly, but you should also consider visiting your dentist or changing your diet if the halitosis persists.

Bad Breath Treatment

While there is no specific treatment for bad breath, a dentist can help you determine the root cause of it. Dentists provide treatments such as cleanings and cavity fillings to help individuals maintain oral health. These treatments reduce bacteria in the mouth and help reduce further bacteria growth.

Maintain Fresh Breath With Quality Dental Care

Maintain Fresh Breath With Quality Dental Care

Proper oral hygiene and quality dental care helps prevent and treat bad breath. 209 NYC Dental offers diagnostic and preventive care for patients in New York City. Our cleanings, expertise and proper home care guidance help individuals maintain oral health and fresh breath. Each checkup consists of X-rays, a thorough cleaning, polishing and an examination.

Our doctors and specialists also offer a wide range of services, such as implant dentistry and periodontics, to address conditions that cause bad breath. Contact 209 NYC Dental to learn how we can help you maintain fresh breath and good oral hygiene.

About Dr. Steven Kafko

Guided by the belief that being a highly skilled specialist in a narrow field is better than being ordinary in everything Dr. Kafko has grown 209 NYC Dental into one of the leading NYC multi-specialty dental practices that it is today. Having extensive cross-specialty training with decades of experience, and strive to provide his patients with the most appropriate dental care Dr. Kafko succeeded in becoming an excellent diagnostic dentist. His skills to triage the most comprehensive dental treatment that a patient may require are highly appreciated by patients and his colleagues.

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