Bad breath plagues everyone at some time or another. If you are aware of it, hopefully you try to get rid of it, or at least try to hide it. If you are not aware of it, you may be wondering why people keep their distance. Regardless, everyone needs to be aware that it's a potential reality and understand the causes of bad breath to better defend against it, gain confidence, and enjoy more pleasant conversations.
Primary Causes of Bad Breath
Foods like garlic and onions can leave potent, lingering odors. These odors can last for days until the food has worked its way through your system! Alcohol and coffee increase the body’s acidity and can dehydrate. This can lead to dry mouth, a state which creates atrocious odors. This often goes hand in hand with...
2. Poor Oral Care
Inadequate brushing and flossing can leave foods residues. These residues lead to plaque development on your teeth. Plaque is an ideal food for the bacteria that make your breath smell awful! That’s because the bacteria that feed on the food sugars and plaque expel sulfuric smelling compounds. Enough bacteria can lead to cavities and periodontal disease, which leads to more bacteria and a circular concern that leaves you with an even stinkier mouth.
3. Tongue (or Mouth) Piercings
That’s right, that really cool and enjoyable tongue piercing can bring about noxious breath by providing a haven for harmful organisms that cause it. Research has indicated higher incidences of Candida albicans (yeast) infections in persons with tongue-piercings. 
4. Dry Mouth (aka Xerostomia)
This is the rough, cottony feeling you get when your saliva flow slows. If you feel that, check your breath. You are a prime candidate for bad breath. Some causes of dry mouth can be mouth breathing, alcohol or coffee consumption, and medications (more on that in a moment).
Helpful as they are intended to be, the medicines you take may cause your breath to reek. Many medications create side effects that dehydrate and lead to dry mouth. Some of these medicines include antihistamines, antidepressants, anticholinergics, anorexiants, antihypertensives, antipsychotics, anti-Parkinson agents, diuretics and sedatives. 
Smoking, especially cigarette smoking, creates a chronic ‘smoker’s breath’. In the best cases, this odor smells of the tobacco and chemicals… and that's not very good. The long term effects are much worse. Researchers found the chemicals and compounds released from smoking lead to dry mouth and reduced salivary flow. Both of these lead to a build-up of bad bacteria which can result in bad breath. Smoking can also lead to periodontal disease and cancers of the mouth.  Bad breath would be the least of your concerns once these develop.
7. Uncleaned Dentures or Dental Appliances
Retainers, braces, etc can harbor the development of bacterial colonies, yeast infections and mold. Once in the mouth, these can quickly and make every day a battle against bad breath. There are many simple, natural and affordable ways to keep dentures and other removable dental appliances clean. For example, a Hydrogen Peroxide rinse can help kill germs and is the primary ingredient in many name brand denture cleaners.
8. Congestion or Sinus Concerns
Illnesses, especially of the sinuses and nose, can create atrociously bad breath. Congestion in the form of nasal mucus or a continuous nasal drip creates a continual food source and breeding ground for unfriendly germs and bacteria. The solution when confronted with illnesses like these, is regular brushing, flossing and a good mouth cleanser. This will help kill the unwanted germs and stimulate the flow of saliva.
9. Acid Reflux
Occasional acid reflux can cause stomach acids, rotten food and gastro-intestinal bacteria to enter the throat and mouth. In a best case scenario, you may simply need to rinse the mouth. In other cases, those gut bacteria can infect the mouth cavity. Some, like H. pylori, can create a more complex medical situation. Research has found halitosis reported among those who suffer from chronic acid reflux. 
10. More Serious Health Concerns
Persistent bad breath may reflect a more serious health condition such as diabetes, chronic acid reflux, liver or kidney disorders, and others. Dry mouth is a symptom of many medical conditions. Chronic medical conditions also destabilize your body’s natural balance, leading to an environment ripe for unfriendly bacteria and germs. Some conditions may actually release bad odors through the lungs, and therefore the breath.
Fighting Bad Breath
Whatever the cause of bad breath – don’t despair. Everyone deals with bad breath or halitosis at some time. The important thing is to regularly practice proper oral and body hygiene:
- Brush regularly
- Floss daily
- Keep a beneficial mouth cleansing product handy
- Periodically cleanse your body of toxins
If your bad breath is chronic, it might be time to seek the advice of your dentist or healthcare provider to rule out the possibility of a more serious condition.
- Zadik Yehuda, Burnstein Saar, Derazne Estella, Sandler Vadim, Ianculovici Clariel, Halperin Tamar (March 2010). Colonization of Candida: prevalence among tongue-pierced and non-pierced immunocompetent adults. Oral Dis 16 (2): 172–5. doi:10.1111/j.1601-0825.2009.01618.x.
- Cathy L. Bartels, Pharm.D. Xerostomia. School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences, University of Montana – oralcancerfoundation.org. (last accessed 2013-06-10)
- Rad M, Kakoie S, Niliye Brojeni F, Pourdamghan N. Effect of Long-term Smoking on Whole-mouth Salivary Flow Rate and Oral Health. J Dent Res Dent Clin Dent Prospects. 2010 Fall;4(4):110-4. doi: 10.5681/joddd.2010.028. Epub 2010 Dec 21.
- Kinberg S, Stein M, Zion N, Shaoul R. The gastrointestinal aspects of halitosis. Can J Gastroenterol. 2010 Sep;24(9):552-6.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.