Is bad breath a sign of illness?

Bad breath, which is often called halitosis, is quite common and can typically be treated. It can be caused by something you consume, by lifestyle choices such as smoking, and can also represent an oral health issue or serious medical issue. This article will review possible causes for bad breath.

General Oral Health

Most cases of bad breath is due to a poor oral hygiene. When patients do not clean their teeth regularly, food particles can remain on the teeth and form a sticky buildup of bacteria or plaque. The uneven surface on the tongue and the tonsils can also trap food particles and bacteria in the mouth. These are also common causes for bad breath odor. Poor oral hygiene and neglect can also causes other oral health issues including cavities and gum disease. Both conditions are associated with bad breath. Maintaining a consistent and thorough oral care routine at home is an optimal way to prevent bad breath.

Food and Beverage Consumption

Consuming certain foods such as onions, garlic, some vegetables and even spices can allow odor-causing food particles to enter the bloodstream. These particles are then carried to the lungs, where they impact the odor of your breath every time you breathe.


Coffee can be a cause patients to have bad breath because of the intense flavor. It can also negatively impact your saliva production. After consuming coffee, the caffeine results in a lower amount of saliva produced. Less saliva often means there is an increase in the odor-causing bacteria in the mouth.


Consuming alcohol can be another culprit for bad breath. The more often you drink alcohol, the more likely you are to experience bad breath odor. Drinking alcohol, specifically in excess, causes a decrease in the production of saliva. As previously stated, reduced saliva production can allow an increase in odor-causing bacteria.


Diets which are high in sugar and protein can also cause bad breath. A diet that is high in sugar can lead to bad breath and can even be the culprit for halitosis. Bacteria which naturally exists in the mouth feeds on sugars.

Low-Carb and High-Protein Diets

Carbohydrates aid in critical body functions. Diets which are low in carbs can lead to bad breath. When the body does not have sufficient carbohydrates can cause changes to the body’s metabolism, which in turn leads to bad breath.

High-protein foods can be difficult for the body to digest. In addition, they have a tendency to release sulfurous gases when they do not metabolize. This can be prevented through consuming a balanced and nutritious diet which includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and herbs.


Tobacco products of any type all cause bad breath. Tobacco also leads to many other serious health issues, including cancer. In addition to giving the mouth a foul odor, tobacco products damage the gum tissue and cause gum disease.

Digestive Issues

Poor digestion, constipation, or bowel disorders can also cause bad breath. Patients who frequently experience acid reflux allow the odors from recently consumed foods to easily travel back up the esophagus and out the mouth, which causes bad breath.

Dry Mouth

Saliva aids in keeping the mouth clean by removing food particles which cause bad breath. When saliva production is low, bad breath often follows. This occurs naturally when you are sleeping. This explains why many people find their breath to smell bad when they first wake up. If the problem persists throughout the day, talk to your dentist about possible treatment options.

More on Halitosis : What is Halitosis?

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