Bad Breath

Massachusetts Dental Society

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Twenty-five percent of the population suffers from chronic halitosis. Halitosis can be a very embarrassing problem and can seriously affect one’s business and social life.

If you don’t brush and floss daily, particles of food remain in the mouth collecting bacteria, which can cause bad breath. The surface of the tongue is one of the major breeding grounds for bacteria that attack the teeth and gums, causing bad breath. Therefore, brushing your tongue daily can greatly reduce mouth odor.

Many of us are so busy we can barely catch our breath. But for the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic halitosis, or bad breath, the joys of everyday life can be anything but breathtaking.

It is estimated that nearly $10 billion is spent each year to treat bad breath; much of it is wasted. According to the Massachusetts Dental Society, some products on the market only solve bad breath problems temporarily.

Chronic halitosis sufferers should consult their dentist first before buying products that claim to solve bad breath problems. Chronic bad breath can be caused by a number of things. Before someone starts spending money on products that may not work on a long-term basis, it’s really important that a dentist diagnose the source of the problem first. A dentist will then be able to recommend or prescribe specific products or medications that can help.

Medical Disorder
The origin of halitosis varies. Bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder, such as a local infection in the respiratory tract (nose, throat, windpipe, lungs), chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver or kidney ailment. Therefore, if your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the cause of bad breath.

Medications and Foods
Taking certain medications may play a role in mouth odor. In addition, certain foods, such as onions and garlic, can be absorbed into the bloodstream and then move into the lungs, where it is expelled, causing bad breath. Keeping a log of foods eaten and medications taken will help your dentist make a determination on what to recommend for the problem.

Another bad breath culprit is the use of tobacco products. Not only does tobacco cause bad breath, stain teeth, reduce one’s ability to taste foods, and irritate gum tissues, but tobacco users are more likely to suffer from periodontal disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.

Dry Mouth
Bad breath may also be caused by dry mouth, which takes place when the flow of saliva decreases. Saliva is essential for cleaning the mouth and removing particles that may cause odor. Dry mouth can be caused by some medications or by constantly breathing through the mouth. To help, a dentist may suggest using sugarless candy to increase fluid intake.

Periodontal or Gum Disease
It’s also important to remember that bad breath may be a sign of something more serious, such as periodontal or gum disease. If gum disease is diagnosed, a general dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in gum disease. One of the warning signs of gum disease is persistent bad breath. Periodontal disease is caused by plaque—a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. Gum disease can cause gum tissues to pull away from the teeth and form pockets. At times, only a professional periodontal cleaning can remove extensive bacteria and plaque.


Although many people may be anxious to solve their mouth odor with a quick fix, the MDS cautions consumers about some breath products on the market. Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. Over-the-counter mouthwashes and breath mints help get rid of a temporary mouth odor. However, if a person frequently has to use a mouthwash or mint to cover up breath problems, his or her dentist may suggest a special antimicrobial mouthwash.


However, there are some antiseptic mouthrinse products, approved by the American Dental Association, that have been shown to reduce plaque and gingivitis and that have breath-freshening properties. Instead of just temporarily solving breath odor, these products actually kill germs that cause halitosis. You can learn more about these products by visiting the consumer section of the ADA Web site.


Whatever the source of the mouth odor, the Massachusetts Dental Society suggests that maintaining good oral health is necessary to avoid many dental problems, including bad breath, before they occur.