What causes bad breath and how to treat it

Bad Breath

Bad breath is not something many people like to talk about. Sometimes called halitosis, it could be caused by a number of things: from the food you eat, to how you brush, to other health problems. Whatever the cause, there are ways you can address it – from brushing your teeth and tongue twice daily with a minty fresh toothpaste to treating underlying health conditions – so you can get back to your fresh and confident self.

Find out the most common causes of bad breath, prevention, and ways to treat bad breath below with Aquafresh.

What causes bad breath?

It can sometimes be hard to put a finger on what causes bad breath. Some causes can be easily treated, and others may need more professional help. But once you know the cause, you’re a step closer to dealing with it.

Here are some common culprits for causing bad breath:

  • Eating smelly foods is a common reason. After food is digested and absorbed by your body, parts of it eventually reach your lungs, which can then add a smell to the air you breathe out. Even with twice-daily brushing and rinsing with mouthwash, some particularly strong odours (like garlic and onions) can take a day or two to properly leave your body.
  • Poor tooth care can also be to blame. If you don't brush effectively with a fluoride toothpaste that helps combat bad breath, lingering food particles can increase risk of tooth decay and cavities, and also give your breath an unfortunate smell. Likewise, smoking is a known cause of bad breath as well as staining your teeth and irritating your gums.
  • When bad breath goes from being mild and occasional to more obvious and every day, it could be related to a health problem. These can include gum disease, dry mouth, yeast infections, tonsil infections, respiratory tract infections, diabetes, acid reflux, and liver or kidney problems. Chat to your dentist or doctor for support and advice if you are ever worried or would like to know more.

How is bad breath treated?

Bad breath or halitosis that is caused by a health problem needs to be treated at the source. Work with your doctor or dentist to identify the underlying issue and treat it. For example, here are a few illnesses and conditions that can cause bad breath and how they are treated:

  • Gum disease: in its early stage (known as gingivitis), gum disease can be reversed with a good oral care routine including brushing for at least two minutes, twice a day, and daily interdental cleaning. More serious gum disease may need professional hygiene, antibiotics, gum surgery, and even tooth removal. Taking these steps will help improve the health of your mouth and reduce your bad breath.1
  • Tooth decay: early signs of tooth decay can be treated with a fluoride varnish prescribed by your dentist. If a cavity has formed, you may need a filling. Later stage tooth decay can require root canal treatment and sometimes tooth extraction.2 If your halitosis is caused by tooth decay, these treatments will help freshen your breath when the problem is solved.
  • Tonsil stones: sometimes, small stones made up of food particles can form in your tonsils, causing bad-smelling bacteria to grow and lead to infections and a bad taste and smell coming from your mouth.3 Your doctor can provide treatment for this ranging from medication to tonsil removal.

There is no one treatment for bad breath – it all depends on the cause. If you’re worried that your breath smells and a strict oral hygiene routine isn’t helping, be sure to contact your dentist or doctor to understand whether there is an underlying health problem. 

What can I do to freshen my breath?

Toothpastes, mouthwashes and breath mints can help cover up occasional bad breath after eating strong-smelling foods. But if you notice your breath is not fresh often, you first need to know what’s causing it. Some things you could try are:

  • Brushing after you eat is a simple way to help remove food and plaque from your mouth. Brushing twice-daily, remembering to brush your tongue, and cleaning between your teeth with an interdental brush or floss at least once daily is a good routine to get into. And remember to also replace your toothbrush every three months. Using a toothbrush beyond three months can contribute to the harbouring of bacteria which can cause infections and bad breath. Check out the Aquafresh range for toothpastes, mouthwashes and toothbrushes to help keep the whole family’s mouths fresh and help ward off bad breath.
  • Properly cleaning your dentures or other oral appliance like removable retainers every day ensures that they don’t harbour fungi, bacteria, or food particles that can give off an unpleasant smell.4
  • Drinking lots of water can also help with bad breath, helping to keep your mouth moist and wash away any food particles or bacteria that may be lingering.
  • Avoiding the usual suspects like smelly onions and garlic is an obvious one. Same goes for any drinks that can leave behind a strong smell in your mouth, like too much coffee. Cutting out tobacco will also help keep your mouth feeling clean and breath smelling fresh, as well as leading to plenty of other health benefits.
  • A visit to the dentist may be needed if you’re concerned that the odour may be related to gum disease. Your dentist can help treat the issue and offer professional mechanical plaque removal. In some cases, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist (a dentist who specialises in treating gum disease). If your bad breath is not caused by health or hygiene, your dentist can still help to find the problem and support with any treatment.

Bad breath can be uncomfortable to talk about, but there are some things you can do to reduce or even prevent it from happening. If in doubt, talk to your dentist to find the right treatment for you.



  1. NHS. Gum Disease. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gum-disease/. Accessed 08/07/2022.
  2. NHS. Tooth Decay. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tooth-decay/. Accessed 08/07/2022.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Bad breath. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/symptoms-causes/syc-20350922#. Accessed 08/07/2022.
  4. John Hopkins Medicine. Halitosis (Bad Breath). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/halitosis-bad-breath. Accessed 08/07/2022.