What is it?

Halitosis is the medical term for “bad breath”, also termed oral malodour. In other words, foul odors exhaled while breathing. It is a condition that is often embarrassing for sufferers, and can lead to anxiety in some situations. Halitosis may be an indication of health problems, and may be accompanied by a persistent bad taste in one’s mouth. Most bad breath originates in the mouth, wherein the tongue is the predominant location for halitosis, accounting for up to 90% of mouth-based halitosis. As halitosis has many different causes, it may be a short-lived condition or even a chronic ailment.


The causes of halitosis are many. One of the most common causes is poor dental hygiene.

Failing to properly clean one’s teeth leaves behind bits of food, which in turn rot and can promote the growth of bacteria, both sources of foul odour. Having a dry mouth can also cause bad breath as saliva plays a key role in cleansing the mouth. Food and beverages are also sources of bad breath. Some foods linger in the mouth causing bad breath, but food is also absorbed into the bloodstream, affecting the air exhaled through the lungs. In the latter situation halitosis can persist for as long as the food is in your system. Examples include: alcohol, cheese, garlic and onions. Finally, halitosis can be an indicator of a more serious health issue, including: diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, lung infection, sinus infection or gastrointestinal problems.



Though halitosis can be a symptom of certain conditions discussed above, halitosis itself can have additional symptoms. Some of the most intuitive are bad odors when talking, blowing, and exhaling, or when the mouth is open. An individual may himself or herself notice a burst of odor when opening their mouth. Less intuitive symptoms include experiencing a persistent bitter taste that might be perceived as metallic. One might notice a coating on their tongue that is either white or yellow, or that their mouth constantly feels dry. Finally, symptoms may present themselves in social form, altering the behavior of those around you. Social cues such as being offered mints and gums frequently, or having others increase their distance during exchanges, might indicate that there is a breath issue.


Self-diagnosing halitosis is often difficult as people are generally acclimatized to their own breath, or have preconceived notions concerning what severity constitutes bad breath. It is therefore more effective to have another person, a confidante, determine if there is an odor problem. A classic method for self-diagnosing bad breath is to lick one’s own hand, allow the saliva to dry, and then smell it. This method should not be used as it has been proven through research to cause overestimation. A better alternative is to gently scrape the back of the tongue with a disposable spoon, and to smell the residue as it dries.

If halitosis is chronic, professional testing might be required. There are several laboratory methods to diagnose halitosis. First if using a halimeter, which monitors the level of hydrogen sulphide in mouth air. Next, gas chromatography can be used, which digitally measures levels of sulphuric components in one’s breath. Finally, a BANA test can be done to test enzymes levels in the saliva to determine the presence of bacteria that are linked to halitosis.



Treating halitosis can be difficult due to its many causes. Counter to what is commonly believed regular mouthwashes do not have lasting effects on bad breath. Antibacterial rinses can help as they reduce the bacteria in the mouth, but the effects may still be short lived. One simple thing to do is the monitor your food and beverages. Determine which foods cause bad breath, and abstain from eating them. Keeping hydrated will keep your mouth properly lubricated, as will chewing sugarless gum of eating sugarless mints. Next, be sure to maintain proper dental hygiene. Floss daily and brush your tongue, gums and teeth twice daily with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Be sure to visit your dentists semi-annually for a professional cleaning. For denture wearers, make sure to brush and soak them nightly. Eating a breakfast that is both healthy and contains rough foods can help reduce bad breath, as rough foods help clean the back of the tongue. Finally, probiotic treatments have been suggested to inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria, namely Streptococcus salivarius K12.