It happens to the best of us: the occasional day when your breath is just awful. Most of the time this is just an occasional issue with an obvious cause: you had onions on your sandwich, drank a bit too much coffee, forgot to brush, etc. However, bad breath–more scientifically known as halitosis–can also be chronic or recurring. This in turn can be due to a wide variety of issues, some mundane and some critical. Understanding the causes of bad breath and knowing some other signs and symptoms to look out for can help both your social life and your medical well being.

Let’s start with the basics: brushing and flossing habits in conjunction with diet are the most likely causes of bad breath. Regular brushing and flossing–three times a day, generally following meals–go a long way towards preventing halitosis. Mouthwash is another powerful yet affordable tool that helps remove debris and bacteria from the mouth, thus cutting down on bad breath. Your diet can also cause bad breath, often in some obvious ways: garlic and onions may taste delicious but the aftereffect can be bad breath. Likewise, excess coffee and alcohol consumption, particularly without adequate brushing and flossing, can likewise cause problems. As with so many oral health issues, the first line of defense is brushing, flossing, and diet, so bear those in mind.

Tobacco use is of special concern when discussing bad breath, as smoking or the use of chewing tobacco has a direct correlation with both bad breath and a host of other oral health issues. It may be difficult, but one of the best moves you can make for both your oral health and your overall health is to give up tobacco altogether.

However, if you’re taking good care of your oral hygiene, eating well, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco, then persistent halitosis may be the sign of other, more serious problems. Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can be a symptom of several different health issues, some directly related to dental health and some originating elsewhere. Dry mouth is an oral health issue in which the mouth does not produce or retain enough saliva. This often occurs while sleeping, and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease with bad breath as a commonly occurring symptom. Likewise, gingivitis and periodontal diseases may cause bad breath, as may cavities and other forms of tooth decay. If bad breath is a recurring issue, it may be time to mention it to your dentist during an exam.

Non-dental medical problems may cause halitosis, so mentioning persistent bad breath to your doctor is also a good idea. While many diseases and conditions may cause bad breath, some of the more common include:

  • Diabetes
  • Sinus infections, throat infections, or infections within the nasal passage
  • Acid reflux
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Chronic respiratory diseases

These are not the most common causes of chronic bad breath, so don’t panic or worry unduly. If you do suffer from recurring or chronic halitosis, just bring that to your doctor or dentist’s attention and they’ll do the rest.

Bad breath is one of life’s inconveniences, but most of the time it is avoidable. Taking good care of both your teeth and your overall health goes a long way towards preventing it, and knowing when to seek further medical attention is a smart move. As always, brushing and flossing regularly is your best line of defense, so keep up those good oral hygiene habits!