The most common causes of bad breath and how to get rid of it fast and easily




a woman talking on a cell phone: Eating fruit is one way to get rid of bad breath fast. Dougal Waters/Getty Images


© Dougal Waters/Getty Images
Eating fruit is one way to get rid of bad breath fast. Dougal Waters/Getty Images

  • The most common causes of bad breath include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, food, and tobacco.
  • Brushing, flossing, taking care of your gums, and staying hydrated are a few bad breath remedies.
  • Chewing gum, drinking green tea or apple cider vinegar, and eating fruit are some quick fixes.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

The bad news is everyone, at one time or another, gets a case of bad breath, or halitosis. 

An understandable source of anxiety and shame, stinky breath makes conversations a little less enjoyable for all parties involved – especially if you don’t realize it.

But here’s the good news: It’s a problem that’s easy to fix.

Along with improving your oral hygiene routine, it’s helpful to gauge why exactly you get bad breath – whether it’s a persistent issue or not – and then make the proper adjustments accordingly. 

What causes bad breath?

Many factors contribute to bad breath, most of which begin in your mouth. The most common causes include: 

 

  • Poor dental hygiene: If you don’t brush or floss daily, not only do you miss getting rid of food particles in between your teeth, you risk plaque buildup, the sticky film of bacteria that coats your teeth. This bacteria can lead to bad breath, as well as cavities and gum disease.
  • Foods: Any food that collects on and between teeth can be the culprit of bad breath, but garlic and onions can especially produce foul odors. 
  • Dry mouth: Saliva helps keep odors at bay naturally by killing bacteria and neutralizing the acids produced by plaque. Also, some medications cause dry mouth. In that case, you might ask your physician if there is an alternative medication you can try.
  • Tobacco products: Not only does smoking omit an unpleasant odor, but it also dries out your mouth. Smoking is also one of the most leading causes of gum disease in the US.
  • Other ear, nose, or throat conditions: Sometimes bad breath is a result of other conditions like diabetes, postnasal drip, and acid reflux. 

Depending on what’s causing your bad breath, there are various ways to treat it. In general, the key is good dental hygiene and optimum personal health.

Eliminating food particles in places where foul-smelling bacteria grow is a must. Here are some of the key ways to keep your breath fresh and your mouth clean.

Brush and floss properly 

Sometimes the most obvious fix is the one that works. Most experts say good oral hygiene, and as a result, pleasant breath, starts with proper brushing of your teeth, especially after meals. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), after you eat, bacteria feed on the food left in your mouth, leaving a foul-smelling waste product behind. At a minimum, brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day

Like brushing, flossing removes food particles and plaque, where bacteria can flourish. It’s important to floss to reach and remove debris that causes plaque, the sticky film that forms in between your teeth. Once plaque hardens, it becomes tartar which causes gum disease. Only your dentist can remove tartar buildup. The ADA says flossing is an essential oral hygiene practice, and you should floss or use another interdental cleaner at least once a day

Take care of your gums

 

Stubborn bad breath or a lingering bad taste in your mouth can be a symptom of periodontitis, commonly known as gum disease. According to the ADA, deeper pockets around teeth caused by gum disease can create places in your mouth where extra bacteria hides and is hard to clean. This can result in halitosis.

Gum disease is generally caused by poor oral hygiene but is easily preventable by brushing teeth twice a day, flossing daily, and scheduling dental appointments regularly. Using mouthwash daily can help clean gums, too.

Scrape your tongue

If you have a tongue scraper and some privacy, scraping your tongue can help reduce instances of bad breath because it removes surface bacteria that contribute to the foul odor, says Jenna Bauer, DNP, an internist at the Mayo Clinic in La Crosse, Wisconsin. 

Tongue scrapers can remove the bacteria that account for up to 80% of bad breath, and improve overall oral health by reducing the amount of pathogens in your mouth. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it may even do a better job on bad breath than brushing.

Stay hydrated

Aside from getting rid of food residue, drinking water helps fight bad breath in other ways. “Drinking water is very helpful because it routinely neutralizes the bacteria and hydrates our bodies, aiding with saliva production,” says Betty Haberkamp, DDS, a dentist at the Cleveland Clinic. Since bad breath is frequently caused by having a dry mouth, drinking water is an easy natural antidote.

Get regular dental checkups

Persistent bad breath can be a warning about other health issues. Scheduling regular checkups with your dentist can help to diagnose more serious health issues. Your dentist can then refer you to the appropriate doctor if necessary. Sinus problems, gastric reflux, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease may also contribute to bad breath so it’s important to find the root cause of the problem.

Lifestyle changes and on-the-go remedies

If you’re at the office or in a social situation without easy access to a glass of water, a bathroom sink, or your toiletries, here are simple methods that may surprise you – and get the job done. 

  • Chew gum: Sugar-free gum can fight bad breath because chewing stimulates saliva production, says Bauer. It also helps in general with odors after eating and to prevent dry mouth, says Dhauna Karam, MD, an internist at the Mayo Clinic. 
  • Use a salt water rinse: Much like drinking regular water, a salt water rinse can remove stray food particles. The salt also kills bacteria that cause bad breath, Bauer says. For people who are sensitive to alcohol-based mouthwash, it’s a simple, cost-effective alternative. However, people with elevated blood pressure should avoid salt water rinses, and use a non-alcohol-based rinse instead. If too concentrated, the alcohol in mouthwash can sometimes dry out or burn gums.
  • Drink green tea: Green tea contains antibacterial properties, including polyphenols, which may help combat smelly breath, Bauer says. Polyphenols help to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause bad breath, as well as the bacteria’s ability to produce unpleasant-smelling compounds
  • Drink milk or eat yogurt: Over the long term, if you’re not lactose intolerant, consuming milk and yogurt may improve your breath because they can help the gastrointestinal tract stay in order, Bauer says. However, for a quick fix, the natural probiotics that exist in yogurt, while healthy, do not help eliminate the bacteria in the mouth, says Haberkamp. 
  • Drink apple cider vinegar: Vinegar kills bacteria in the mouth, which helps combat bad breath, says Bauer. Add approximately one to two spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water to help balance the PH levels in your mouth.
  • Chew fennel seed or anise: The seeds can neutralize odors, help with digestion, and increase saliva, says Bauer.
  • Eat fruit: Oranges, apples, and other fiber-rich fruits and vegetables can cause more saliva to be created, causing bacteria to be washed away in the mouth, says Bauer. In addition, vitamin C helps with maintaining good mucus in the mouth, Karam says.
  • Take zinc: This mineral can help combat bad breath in two ways. First, it helps stop the buildup of sulfur compounds that cause bad breath, says Bauer. Second, it helps prevent tooth decay and prevent cavities, says Karam.

Insider’s takeaway

Though frequently normal, chronic unpleasant breath should be taken seriously.

“It can be a sign that something more sinister is happening in your mouth if it persists for a long period of time. Practicing consistent, good oral hygiene, which includes brushing two times a day – including your tongue – and flossing daily, is the most effective method to prevent dental disease and bad breath because it reduces the amount of bacteria present in the mouth,” Haberkamp says. 

Rinsing food particles and bacteria out of the mouth with mouthwash, salt water, water, or green tea can offer a quick fix to bad breath as well as hydrate the mouth and increase the stimulation of saliva. Gum can also help, if you have it handy, just make sure it’s sugarless so that it doesn’t cause cavities or bacteria, both of which can cause bad breath.

Overall, “limiting soda and sugar consumption is also an important method for keeping bacteria and bad breath at bay,” says Haberkamp.

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