Halitosis (Mouth Odour): Causes and Preventive Measures

Nrs. Oke Ololade

A lot of relationships have been ruined due to this condition, although, Bad breath can have causes that are not due to underlying disease; some poor dental hygiene, dehydration or eating certain kinds of foods like onions or garlic and so on. For the purpose of illustration, let me share the ugly experience I had when I went for a job interview lately. I came across a very pretty lady, well dressed and looking charming. Incidentally, she was among the applicants scheduled for the interview on that particular day. I could recall when she arrived at the venue, everyone’s attention was drawn in awe of her beauty. As a matter of fact, I was almost gripped with inferiority complex at the sight of her. Few minutes later she sat down, I noticed she was talking to a guy who sat immediately next to her, then, all of a sudden, the guy stood up with a funny expression on his face and sat on another seat away from her. At that point, I became curious, but I had to quickly adjust and mind my business. After a while, we were about four left, yet to be called including the lady and as at then, she was the next person to me. Somewhere along the line, she requested for my pen and I obliged her. But guess what? The moment she opened her mouth to speak, I perceived a very irritating smell that may be likened to an air pollution from an unkempt toilet close by.

Such a pungent smell was so strong, I mean, strong enough to wake up a dead body. When she continued to interact with me, I had no other option than to change my direction towards the entrance door, although, I tried not to make it obvious. I could only imagine how she feels each time she tries to interact with people and their likely unfriendly reactions towards her. Bad breath has made a lot of people to remain muted in the public for fear of causing any embarrassment and this has consequently led to their loss of self-esteem on many occasions. It is estimated that 1 in every 4 persons is affected globally, or between 6% to 50% of the population.


Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a symptom in which a noticeable unpleasant or bad odour is present. It can result in anxiety and depression among those affected. Another name for bad breath is halitosis or fetor oris. Odour can come from the mouth, teeth, or as a result of an underlying health problem. Bad breath odour can be a temporary problem or a chronic condition.

There are different causes of this condition and these include:

Poor Dental Hygiene: Bacteria breaks down food particles trapped in the teeth or mouth. The combination of the bacteria and decaying food in your mouth produces an unpleasant odour. Plaque build-up can cause cavities and periodontal disease. Bad breath also can be a problem if you wear dentures and don’t clean them every night.

Strong Foods and Beverages: When you eat onions, garlic, or other foods with strong odours, your stomach absorbs oils from the foods during digestion. These oils pass into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs. This produces an odour that others can notice in your breath for up to 72 hours. Drinking beverages with strong odours, such as coffee, can also contribute to bad breath.

Smoking: Smoking cigarettes or cigars causes a bad odour and dries out your mouth, which can make your breath odour even worse.

Dry Mouth: Dry mouth can also occur if you don’t create enough saliva. Saliva helps keep your mouth clean and reduces odour. Dry mouth can be a problem if you have a salivary gland condition, sleep with your mouth open, or take certain medications, including those that treat high blood pressure and urinary conditions.


Periodontal Disease: Periodontal disease happens when you do not remove plaque promptly from teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar. You cannot remove tartar by brushing, and it can irritate your gums. Tartar may cause pockets, or small openings, to form in the area between the teeth and gums. Food, bacteria, and dental plaque can collect in the pockets, causing a strong odour.

Mouth, Nose and Throat Conditions: Bad breath can occasionally stem from small stones that form in the tonsils and are covered with bacteria that produce odour. Infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses or throat, which can contribute to postnasal drip, also can cause bad breath.

Diseases: Unusual breath odour can be a symptom of some diseases, including kidney disease, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflex disorder (GERD). GERD is a relatively common cause of halitosis. If you have kidney or liver failure or diabetes, your breath may smell fishy. When your diabetes is not under control, your breath may smell fruity. In addition to a bad smell in your mouth, you may also notice a bad taste in your mouth. If the taste is due to an underlying condition and is not because of trapped food particles, it may not disappear even if you brush your teeth and use mouthwash.

To reduce bad breath, help avoid cavities and lower your risk of gum disease, consistently practice good oral hygiene. Further treatment for bad breath can vary, depending on the cause. If your bad breath is thought to be caused by an underlying health condition, your dentist will likely refer you to your primary care provider.

For causes related to oral health, your dentist will work with you to help you better control that condition. Dental measures may include:

  • Mouth rinses and toothpastes.If your bad breath is due to a build-up of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth, your dentist may recommend a mouth rinse that kills the bacteria. Your dentist may also recommend a toothpaste that contains an antibacterial agent to kill the bacteria that cause plaque build-up.
  • Treatment of dental disease.If you have gum disease, you may be referred to a gum specialist (periodontist). Gum disease can cause gums to pull away from your teeth, leaving deep pockets that fill with odour-causing bacteria. Sometimes only professional cleaning removes these bacteria. Your dentist might also recommend replacing faulty tooth restorations, a breeding ground for bacteria.


Bad breath can be reduced or prevented if you:

  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush teeth after you eat (keep a toothbrush at work or school to brush after lunch). Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too. Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months or after an illness. Use floss or an interdental cleaner to remove food particles and plaque between teeth once a day. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day. Dentures should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth the next morning.


  • See your dentist regularly at least twice a year. He or she will conduct an oral exam and professional teeth cleaning and will be able to detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth, or other problems that may be the cause of bad mouth odour.


  • Stop smoking and chewing tobacco-based products. Ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.


  • Drink lots of water. This will keep your mouth moist. Chewing gum (preferably sugarless) or sucking on candy (preferably sugarless) also stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria. Gums and mints containing xylitol are best.


  • Keep a record of the foods you eat. If you think they may be causing bad breath, bring the log to your dentist to review. Also, make a list of the medications you take. Some drugs may play a role in creating mouth odours.

A dentist once said this to me “smiling is fun with healthy teeth & gums, so, keep a good oral hygiene, let the Smile go on”. Always keep in mind that life is beautiful. Do have a productive week ahead.


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