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Bad breath, or halitosis, is unpleasant, embarrassing, and fairly common.

There are many factors which can cause bad breath, but over 80% of the time the odors originate in the mouth. Poor oral hygiene – lack of proper flossing and brushing – can lead to a build up of food particles and debris around the teeth. As the food particles break down, bacteria are forming and giving off by products and the odor increases.

One main area where food particles and bacteria accumulate is on the surface of the tongue. As film forms over the tongue it traps the anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that thrive in an oxygen free environment). These anaerobic bacteria give off a sulfur compound which can smell like rotten eggs.

Cleaning the film and bacteria off of the tongue twice a day can help eliminate most mouth odors. This cleaning can be done with the edge of a teaspoon or a plastic tongue scraper.

Other factors that can cause mouth odors are the type of foods eaten (garlic, onions, fish, cheese, etc.) smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption.

Some medications can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow allows more food particles and bacteria to accumulate thus leading to mouth odors. Reduced saliva flow at night is why people will experience “morning bad breath.”

A few other things that can cause breath odors are some cancers and other metabolic disorders. Diabetes and kidney or liver failure can cause a fishy odor and uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a fruity smell. GERD (reflux disease) can cause a strong vomit-like odor.

Sinus problems, post nasal drip, etc. can lead to bad breath. Also tonsil stones, which are an accumulation of food and bacteria in hard knots on the tonsils will stink.

It’s very difficult to self-test for bad breath. Ask someone who is close to you to give you an honest answer about your breath. If you believe you have bad breath try first to improve your dental hygiene – floss, brush, and scrape your tongue at least twice per day. Use a mouth wash to kill bacteria. Chew sugarless gum with xylitol to increase saliva flow.

Make sure to visit your dentist on a regular basis to ensure your don’t have areas of decay or gum disease.