Broadly speaking, bad breath (halitosis) is most commonly caused by bacteria in the mouth; up to 90% of bad breath results from some type of bacteria-related oral health or hygiene condition.
This strong correlation between bad breath and oral health and hygiene practices means that treatment for bad breath most commonly involves seeking appropriate dental care at a qualified dental clinic as well as implementing ongoing behavioral changes. In fact, invasive treatment is only necessary in about 3% of oral-caused cases.
The 6 Most Common Causes Of Bad Breath
1. Retained Food Debris
The simplest and most common explanation for halitosis is retained and/or impacted food particles between the teeth, in tonsil crypts, within periodontal pockets, and in other hard-to-clean places in the mouth. This food debris can emit strong, foul odors as it decays. Consequently, regularly brushing and flossing between the teeth — especially after eating — can significantly reduce bad breath.
2. A Poorly Managed Tongue Coating
Dead cells and odor-causing bacteria retained between the papillae on the tongue’s surface are the second-most common source of bad breath.
This thick, white coating can often easily be removed by brushing your tongue and using a tongue scraper, and can be prevented from recurring with the same intensity by staying hydrated, limiting alcohol and tobacco use, and preventing dry mouth. A professional dentist in Vancouver can provide additional advice and resources for your mouth and dental hygiene routine.
3. Bacteria In Periodontal Pockets & Dental Devices
Periodontal pockets are a consequence of advancing tooth decay and gum disease. Odor-causing bacteria and plaque can become trapped both within carious lesions (tooth cavity craters) and wherever gum pockets form as gingivitis-related inflammation causes gums to recede and pull away from the teeth.
Many dental devices (like dentures, retainers, and mouth guards) can similarly trap bacteria and plaque if not appropriately cleaned.
4. Severe Periodontal Disease Processes
Left untreated, dental disease can progress, leading to severe oral health conditions that intensify unpleasant mouth odors. Acute conditions like ulcerative gingivitis, impacted and infected teeth, and root abscesses are common severe causes of bad breath.
Moreover, cancerous lesions in the mouth can also cause bad breath.
These conditions all require urgent treatment at an accredited dental office, both to resolve your bad breath and to prevent tooth and bone loss.
Other Possible Causes Of Your Bad Breath
Sometimes, improving oral hygiene practices and/or treating oral health conditions will not eliminate mouth odors. Common causes of this kind of persistent halitosis include:
1. Lifestyle & Behavioral Choices
Some lifestyle/behavioral choices can contribute to halitosis.
For example, dry mouth — whether due to medication side-effects. dehydration, breathing through your mouth, or smoking — often leads to bad breath. That is because saliva is responsible for continuously washing away odor-causing bacteria. Likewise, certain foods (garlic and onion, for example) emit strong odors through the mouth during digestion, leading to bad breath that persists even after brushing and using mouthwash.
Though these behaviors are not strictly dental “problems,” a professional dental hygienist or dentist near you can suggest lifestyle and behavioral changes to holistically treat bad breath.
2. (In Rare Cases) Non-Oral Conditions
Statistically speaking, bad breath is more likely than not to stem from the above-listed oral health and hygiene conditions. That said, approximately 8%-10% of cases have non-oral causes, most commonly:
- Respiratory conditions, like bronchitis and sinusitis
- Gastrointestinal conditions, including stomach ulcers
- Endocrine system conditions, like diabetic ketoacidosis
- Hematological conditions, including leukemia
- Some metabolic conditions
- Renal failure
Many of these conditions can become severe or life-threatening, especially if left untreated. That is just one more reason why it is important to work with a qualified dentist in Vancouver to determine the root cause of your bad breath.