Skip to content

Sure Signs You Have "Bad Breath" and How to Fix It

Doctor explains what to know about bad breath. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Bad breath can happen to anyone and now that the masks have come off it's time to be social again and pay attention to oral hygiene. How to tell if you have bad breath can be tricker than you think. Someone doesn't always know they have bad breath, but others around definitely notice. That said, there are ways to learn if you have bad breath without asking others. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explained signs you have bad breath and how to get rid of the problem. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Bad Breath

woman worry about her teeth and look in the mirror.

Dr. Mitchell says, "Bad breath, or halitosis, can be a real problem. It's not just that it's unpleasant for you and those around you, but it can also be a sign of an underlying health issue. So what causes bad breath? The most common cause is poor oral hygiene. When food particles and bacteria build up on your teeth and gums, they can cause your breath to smell noticeably unpleasant. Other causes of bad breath include smoking, dry mouth, gum disease, and certain foods (like garlic or onions). It's estimated that around 80 million people in the United States alone suffer from chronic bad breath. While there are many over-the-counter products available to help with this problem, there are also several simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference." 


People Prefer To Keep Their Distance

Woman stands about a mirror in a bathroom with open mouth.

Dr. Mitchell shares, "You might be having a conversation with someone, and you notice a glimpse of disgust or horror on their face. They might try to discreetly move away from you while avoiding sudden movements. This is usually a sign that you have bad breath, and people are trying to avoid being too close to you. Have you ever been on a date with someone where there was no chemistry? Maybe they didn't laugh at your jokes, or they weren't interested in kissing you. While there could be any number of reasons why the date didn't go well, one possibility is that your breath smelled bad."


You Frequently Have a Metallic or Sour Taste

Woman Feeling Nauseous

"Most people have experienced bad breaths at some point in their lives," Dr. Mitchell says. "Whether after a night of heavy drinking or first thing in the morning, bad breath is an unpleasant reality that we all must face. But why does a sour taste in our mouths or a metallic taste signify bad breath? The answer lies in the composition of our saliva. Saliva comprises water, electrolytes, mucus, white blood cells, and enzymes. It also contains minerals such as calcium, phosphate, and fluoride. When these minerals interact with plaque on our teeth, they produce hydrogen sulfide gas, which gives bad breath its characteristic odor. Additionally, saliva helps keep our mouths moist and prevents the growth of bacteria. When we experience a dry mouth due to dehydration or medications, this can also lead to bad breath. So if you're looking to freshen your breath, make sure to stay hydrated and brush your teeth regularly!"


Your Teeth Have Seen Better Days!

Mature woman feeling strong pain, toothache.

"It's no secret that bad dental hygiene can lead to bad breath,"Dr. Mitchell reminds us. "But why is this the case? To understand why it's essential to understand a bit about how our mouths work. Our mouths are full of bacteria, which are mostly harmless. However, when these bacteria start to break down food particles, they release smelly compounds known as volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). Poor dental hygiene can allow these VSCs to build up, resulting in bad breath. Brushing and flossing regularly help to remove food particles and bacteria, preventing the buildup of VSCs. So, if you're looking to keep your breath fresh, be sure to brush and floss regularly!"


Practice Good Oral Hygiene

smiling woman brushing teeth

Dr. Mitchell explains, "This means brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the surface of your tongue.Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent bad breath. Brushing and flossing regularly helps remove food particles and plaque from teeth, gums, and tongue. These are two of the leading causes of bad breath. In addition, good oral hygiene helps keep your mouth moist, which also prevents bad breath. Dry mouth is one of the most common causes of bad breath. Saliva helps to cleanse your mouth and neutralize acids that cause bad breath. Therefore, it is important to drink plenty of water and avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol, which can dry out your mouth. By following these simple tips, you can maintain good oral hygiene and enjoy fresh breath all day long."


Quit Smoking

stop smoking

"Cigarette smoking is one of the primary causes of bad breath," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "When you smoke, the nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes stick to your teeth and gums, leaving behind an unpleasant smell. In addition, smoking dries out your mouth, leading to a buildup of plaque and bacteria. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your oral health and get rid of bad breath. Your mouth will feel fresher and cleaner, but you'll also reduce your risk of developing gum disease and other oral health problems. If you're struggling to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about ways to kick the habit for good."


Stay Hydrated

Close-up of pretty young woman drinking water from glass

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Drinking water throughout the day helps keep your mouth moist and discourages the growth of bacteria. When your mouth is dry, bacteria are more likely to multiply, leading to bad breath. In addition, water helps to rinse away food debris and other particles that contribute to bad breath. For best results, drink eight glasses of water per day and avoid sugary drinks, alcohol, and coffee, which can all contribute to dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on hard candy can also help to increase saliva production and keep your mouth moist. By following these simple tips, you can help keep your breath fresh and avoid embarrassing moments."


Avoid Foods that Cause Bad Breath

man eating a burger

Dr. Mitchell shares, "Many people don't realize that the foods they eat can play a role in bad breath. While there are many causes of bad breath, such as poor oral hygiene or certain medical conditions, diet is often one of the main culprits. Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, can cause bad breath due to their strong odors. Other foods, such as sugary snacks and carbonated beverages, can promote the growth of bacteria in the mouth, leading to bad breath. Additionally, acidic foods can break down tooth enamel, leading to gum disease and ultimately bad breath. Therefore, avoiding these types of foods can help get rid of bad breath. In addition to avoiding certain foods, good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing regularly, are essential for keeping bad breath at bay."


See Your Dentist Regularly

man at dentist's office

Dr. Mitchell asks, "Regular dental appointments are essential for keeping your mouth healthy and free from disease, but did you know that they can also help to prevent bad breath? Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth, and if it isn't removed, it can lead to gum disease. Gum disease causes bad breath, but it can also damage the tissues that support your teeth. Regular cleanings by your dentist will remove plaque before it has a chance to cause problems. In addition, your dentist can identify any other potential causes of bad breath, such as tooth decay or dry mouth. You can avoid bad breath and keep your smile looking its best by seeing your dentist regularly."


Find the Underlying Cause of Bad Breath

dentist and patient

Dr. Mitchell says, "While there are many over-the-counter treatments available, it is important to understand the underlying cause of bad breath to provide the most effective treatment. In some cases, bad breath may be caused by poor oral hygiene or a build-up of plaque on the teeth. However, more serious causes of bad breath can include gum disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. As a result, it is important to see a dentist or doctor if bad breath persists despite good oral hygiene. Only a professional can determine the underlying cause of bad breath and recommend the most appropriate course of treatment."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
Filed Under