Is bad breath bad news?
Is bad breath bad news?

Is bad breath bad news?

Thursday, February 1, 2024


It stinks, but yes, sometimes bad breath (Latin name, Halitosis) is a sign of bad health. The following reasons for bad breath begin with the most common and end with potentially serious causes.  

Poor oral hygiene 

Not brushing and/or flossing correctly allows the buildup of bacteria in the mouth, resulting in bad breath. 

Food and drink 

Strong-smelling foods like garlic, onions, and certain spices can leave an odor in the mouth, which can stick around until the food is digested and eliminated from the body. 

Dry mouth 

Saliva helps cleanse the mouth and remove odor-causing bacteria. When the mouth is dry due to dehydration, certain medications or breathing just through your mouth, bad breath can occur. 

Tobacco use 

Smoking and chewing tobacco leave chemicals in the mouth that contribute to bad breath and other oral health problems.  

Dental problems 

Cavities, dental abscesses and periodontal (gum) disease are caused by bacterial infections in the gums and supporting structures of the teeth. Decaying teeth emit foul odors. Gum disease produces even more unpleasant odors and can cause pain. Sometimes, patients aren’t aware that cavities can cause bad breath. Untreated cavities can become dental abscesses, which can lead to gum disease, so don’t hesitate to ask a doctor (medical or dental) to assess the overall health of your mouth.  

Bronchitis, sinusitis and other respiratory reasons 

Post-nasal drip, allergies and various respiratory Infections all cause bad breath as a result of the release of bacteria. Halitosis is a major symptom of pneumonia.  

Systemic illnesses 

Systemic illnesses affect one or more of the body’s systems. Some, like kidney disease and diabetes, affect the entire body. For instance, if your kidney is not functioning properly, the waste products your body would normally expel build up in your system and cause breath to smell. It is often called ammonia breath.  


Other illnesses besides kidney disease and diabetes that share bad breath as a symptom include certain cancers, gastrointestinal illnesses and autoimmune diseases. 


A 2022 research study on bad breath discusses the fact that 85% of the cases are due to inadequate oral hygiene; gum disease and tongue coating; 10% due to ear, nose and throat-related (bronchitis, sinusitis, etc.) illnesses and 5% from gastrointestinal/endocrine disorders.  


These researchers call for a multidisciplinary approach to combat this common complaint, so don’t be shy about putting a team in place.  


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Genesis HealthCare System’s Health and Wellness content conveniently provides accurate and helpful information. Your health history and current health may impact suggestions provided through our Health and Wellness content. Although we hope this information is helpful, it is not a substitute for your doctor's medical advice. Before making any significant changes, please consult your doctor.