What Is Bad Breath (Halitosis) a Sign Of? 

bad breath

Halitosis, or bad breath, can have multiple causes. Most commonly, it’s a sign of poor oral hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss your teeth regularly, bacteria can accumulate on decaying food particles and produce smelly sulfur compounds. And, of course, letting bacteria grow uncontrolled also leads to cavities and gum disease. 

However, people sometimes wonder, “Why does my breath smell bad after brushing?” The answer is that halitosis can be a symptom of a health issue in the mouth or elsewhere in the body.    

Other Causes of Bad Breath

Besides oral health issues, several medical conditions can cause persistent bad breath, including:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This digestive condition develops when stomach acid leaks back into your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. 
  • Dry mouth. You need saliva to wash food particles and bacteria out of your mouth. Not having enough of it can lead to halitosis. Dry mouth can result from smoking, taking certain medications, an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, and other causes. 
  • Nose, throat, and lung infections. Infected and irritated tissue in the various parts of your respiratory system can make your breath smell bad.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of gum disease, which causes bad breath. 
  • Kidney or liver disease. Your kidneys and liver collect toxins and help remove them from your body. If these organs aren’t functioning correctly, the toxins accumulate and contribute to halitosis. 
  • Tonsil stones. If food gets trapped in your tonsils, it can harden into “stones,” and that condition can cause bad breath.
  • Head and neck cancers. Certain cancers produce sores in the mouth or other conditions that produce halitosis. 
  • Intestinal blockage. If food can’t move through your intestines efficiently, it can cause bad breath. 
  • Peptic ulcers. Sores in your stomach lining or the upper part of your small intestine can produce halitosis.  

Bad Breath After Drinking

Halitosis is common after drinking alcohol. That’s because your body converts much of the alcohol you consume into acetic acid, which has a foul, vinegar-like smell. The more you drink at one time, and the more often you drink, the more severe your halitosis will be.  

How to Get Rid of Bad Breath

Getting rid of persistent bad breath starts with recognizing that you have it. It can be difficult to smell your breath, but a loved one or your dentist or doctor can let you know if they detect an unpleasant odor. 

The next step is to see your dentist. They can assess the condition of your mouth and determine if gum disease or some other oral health issue is causing your bad breath. If it is, addressing that issue can improve your breath. 

If an oral health problem isn’t to blame for your halitosis, you should talk with your doctor. They can perform a physical exam and order various tests, if needed, to determine if a medical condition is causing your bad breath. If it is, they’ll develop a treatment plan for that condition. 

Don’t Ignore or Hide Bad Breath!

Bad breath can be embarrassing, so many people hide it with breath mints or chewing gum. However, that approach keeps them from addressing the underlying issue and delays treatment, which can allow the condition to worsen. 

If your dentist feels your bad breath isn’t related to an oral health issue, contact your Baptist Health primary care physician about possible causes and solutions. They may refer you to other specialists, such as a gastroenterologist, as needed. If you don’t have a Baptist Health doctor, you can find one in our online provider directory.


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