Bad breath: How can I permanently get rid of bad breath?

Update in January 11, 2024

Many patients suffer from a bad breath problem As many as 95% of the population suffer from bad breath at some time. Once a proper diagnosis is made then bad breath can be treated.  The difficulty is knowing if a problem exists because we are poor judges of whether we have bad breath. Frequently the problem is noticed by a close friend or relative. Hence the best way of determining if you have bad breath or not is by asking someone close to you or asking your dentist. Sometimes, although rarely, bad breath can be a sign of a general health problem. We should be able to tell those dear to us if they have a problem.


Bad breath can be divided into two main types:

  • “Morning Breath” is a condition that most people suffer from. Due to the lack of secretion of saliva during the night from our salivary gland, the bacteria isn’t washed away. By simply brushing and rinsing with a mouth rinse the bad breath can disappear. As our salivary glands rest while we are asleep, there is insufficient saliva to wash away bacteria and food debris.
  • “Halitosis” is a more serious condition and usually will need treatment. The problem can still be present even after brushing and rinsing and the bad breath can last throughout the day. Bacteria that give off odorous gases produce this type of bad breath.

Bad breath causes

You might think that bad breath, or halitosis, comes mostly from eating foods like garlic and onions. You may be surprised to learn that bacteria in the mouth, especially on the tongue, is one of the biggest bad breath causes.

Dentists refer to the sulfur byproducts excreted as waste by oral bacteria as “volatile sulfur compounds” (VSC’s) and it’s their presence in your mouth that causes bad breath. Besides food, bad breath can be caused by poor dental hygiene, tobacco use, and some medical conditions.


 Food that collects on and between the teeth can collect bacteria that produce odors. Some spicy and pungent foods can be noticeable on your breath for at least two days after eating them. Onions, garlic, and coffee are just a few that we know that can be detected on the breath.

Poor Dental Hygiene 

 Remove plaque, which contains bacteria, from your teeth, gums, and tongue every day. Cavities and gingivitis can also cause bad breath.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco also causes its own form of bad breath. Smoking can cause chronic bad breath from the build-up of tar and nicotine as well as reduced saliva flow. The only solution, in this case, is to stop smoking.  As well as making your breath smell, smoking causes staining, loss of taste, and  Gum Disease.  People who smoke are more likely to suffer from gum disease and also have a greater risk of developing cancer of the mouth, lung cancer, and heart disease.  Ask your dentist, pharmacist, or practice nurse for help in quitting. If you do stop smoking, but still have bad breath, then you need to see your dentist or GP for advice.

Dry mouth

Saliva plays an important role in our dental health. It helps to wash away food particles and bacteria from your mouth. If you have a dry mouth, these food particles linger and bad breath may develop. While we sleep, our saliva production reduces, which is why we often notice our breath isn’t quite as fresh when we wake up.

dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that affects the flow of saliva.  This causes bacteria to build up in the mouth, leading to bad breath.  Dry mouth may be caused by some medicines, salivary gland problems, or by continually breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.  Also, older people naturally produce less saliva.

If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may be able to recommend or prescribe an artificial saliva product or suggest other ways of dealing with the problem.

Non-Oral Health Conditions

Bad breath can be caused by an associated health condition that plays a role in the release of volatile molecules on the breath. Dieting, snoring, stress, age, and hormonal changes – including menstruation – can also impact your breath.

The following diseases, among others not listed here, have been known to cause or worsen halitosis:

  • Respiratory tract infection
  • Tonsillitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Hepatic failure
  • Renal (kidney) failure
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Leukemia
  • Acute fever

Symptoms of bad breath

It’s pretty simple to pick up on the symptoms. You may notice that your breath isn’t quite right, or you may be alerted to the smell by a friend or colleague. Let’s face it, it’s not nice to know you have bad breath. But if you have a trusted friend or family member who can be honest with you about it, you’re one step closer to remedying the problem. Let’s face it – it’s also hard to tell someone they have bad breath.

Some symptoms can be more severe than just an off smell. Your bad breath may hang around for a few weeks, your gums may be sore, bleeding, or swollen, you may have a toothache, or if you have dentures, you may be having problems with them. In all of these cases, it’s important to book an appointment with your dentist to discuss your concerns and look at treatment options.

Can I treat bad breath at home?

Don’t worry, it’s totally normal and these naturally-occurring bacteria are actually important for digestion. Although you can never fully get rid of them, here are ways you can try to help beat bad breath:

Brushing and flossing

Good dental hygiene is one of the main ways you can limit bad breath. It’s really important to floss daily and to brush your teeth twice a day.

Regular brushing and flossing can help remove trapped food that the odor-producing bacteria like to feed on, and it can also reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth.

It can also be helpful to use a mouthwash. However, be careful not to use a mouthwash that contains alcohol, as this can make your mouth dry, potentially worsening your bad breath. Instead, use a mouthwash that contains oxygenated products such as chlorine dioxide or sodium chloride.

Clean your tongue regularly

Your tongue can also harbor lots of bad breath causing bacteria and food traces under a thin layer of mucus (white coating), which normal brushing and flossing will not get rid of. So after brushing your teeth, try cleaning your tongue once a day, especially in the morning when the bacteria have been multiplying whilst you slept.

You can either use your toothbrush with a small amount of toothpaste and gently brush from the back of your tongue forward, or try a custom-designed tongue scrapper, which is available from most supermarkets or chemists. Just be careful not to apply too much pressure as this can damage your tongue.

Keep your mouth hydrated

Having a dry mouth, which becomes more common as we age, can make your breath smell as saliva helps wash away food particles and odor-causing bacteria in your mouth.

To help keep your mouth hydrated, drink plenty of water throughout the day. When you become dehydrated your body tries to conserve water by slowing down the production of saliva. It can also be helpful to chew sugar-free gum, which can trick your body into thinking you’re eating, which will stimulate saliva production. If your dry mouth persists, it’s important to speak to your dentist or doctor.

coffee has a diuretic effect, slowing down the production of saliva and creating a great environment in your mouth for odor-producing bacteria to live and feed. So it’s important to make sure you drink plenty of water to help combat the diuretic effects of these beverages. Make sure you give your teeth and tongue a good scrub before popping into bed each night and when you get up the next day, especially after a night of drinking.

Dry mouth can also be caused by certain medications and some long-term health conditions, such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, it’s important to speak to your doctor and or dentist who will be able to help.

Eat healthy foods

Although found in most recipes, onion and garlic can cause bad breath. That’s because they contain a sulfur-based compound called ‘allyl methyl sulfide’, which mirrors the effect of bad breath. This compound can be ‘sticky’, causing it to linger for longer in your mouth. So after eating a garlicky or oniony meal make sure to brush your teeth or chew some gum.

Foods that are high in protein, such as fish, meat, and dairy products, can also affect your breath as the odor-producing bacteria in your mouth break down the protein. It’s a good idea to wash these foods down with plenty of water, or brush your teeth or chew gum after your meal.

Quit smoking

Smoking can cause dry mouth and gum disease amongst other issues. If you smoke, talk to your dentist and doctor about quitting. They will be able to talk you through the different techniques and options open to you and also support you along the way.

Bad breath is something most of us will experience from time to time but by following the above tips you can help beat it. If, however, your bad breath is not going away or it’s getting worse, it’s important to speak to your dentist who will be able to help.

When to see a dentist?

Book an appointment to see a dentist as soon as possible if:

  • Your bad breath has been persisting for more than a few days
  • The odor is particularly noticeable or concerning
  • You have pain in your mouth, toothache, bleeding, or sore gums

Bad breath can also be caused by tooth decay and gum disease. So it’s important to have regular check-ups with your dentist who can check for decay and gum disease and treat it.

Gum disease is the most likely cause of bad breath. It is caused by the bacteria present in plaque (the soft deposits that build up on your teeth) and tartar (calcified plaque). Your dentist will be able to assess the health of your gums during a routine examination and determine if this is the cause. You may then be advised to see the hygienist for several appointments.  She/he will treat the problem by removing the soft and hard deposits from your teeth and help teach you the best way to look after your mouth.


It’s useful to think ahead about what your dentist will need to know to diagnose and treat your problem.

Generally, your dentist will ask you about your medical history and then thoroughly examine your mouth, teeth, gums, jaw, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose, and neck. You may also need an x-ray, depending on what your dentist suspects might be the cause of your bad breath.

Your dentist will ask you some questions about problems you’re experiencing, such as:

  • When did your bad breath start?
  • How noticeable is the odor?
  • Have you made any changes in your dental routine?
  • Has your diet changed?
  • Are you experiencing any pain?

Think about your answers to these questions before your appointment. Being prepared can speed up the diagnosis.

What products are available?

There are many specialized oral care products available, which come as toothpaste, oral rinse, and spray.  Using these will help you clean your teeth, give you fresher breath, and the confidence to keep you smiling all day long.  These products are designed to eliminate, not mask, odor-causing compounds.  Ask your dentist for details. The specialist products contain a safe, effective, antibacterial formula to fight plaque and, as part of a daily oral hygiene program, will help keep your mouth healthy, clean, and fresh.

  • Mouth Rinses: dentists recommend alcohol-free mouthwash (flavored or non-flavored). Rinse with 10ml for 1 minute twice daily and do not rinse afterward with water. Most mouth rinses are designed to last up to eight hours.
  • Oral sprays: Are convenient for your pocket, handbag, car, or whenever you are away from the bathroom and want the reassurance of fresh breath.
  • Toothpaste: Brands with a gritty consistency help to remove more plaque/tartar. Purchase those with a minimum fluoride content of 1450ppm of Fluoride to ensure prevention of decay.
  • Sugar-Free Chewing Gum: Chewing gum helps to stimulate saliva flow which reduces bad breath. It also leaves a minty fresh smell.

How much does it cost to treat bad breath?

The price of treating bad breath varies, depending on what is the underlying cause. Bad breath may be helped by changes to your oral health routine or diet. But it may be a symptom of something serious, so we recommend that you see a dentist to check it out. Your dentist will be able to diagnose the cause and advise you about the cost of treatment.

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