Dealing with bad breath can be embarrassing. Though it’s not dangerous in itself, it may erode your self-confidence and can even signal a more serious health problem.
You probably know that some foods or poor oral hygiene can bring on a bout of halitosis, but there are actually a surprising number of less-obvious causes of bad breath. Here are a few culprits you might want to consider when diagnosing a malodorous mouth.
Carbonated beverages such as sparkling water or soda are more acidic than still water due to the addition of phosphoric or citric acid. According to McGill University, sparkling water can lower the pH of your mouth, making it more acidic. As Dr. Gigi Meinecke, a dentist with the Academy of General Dentistry told Health, this acidity can dry out the mouth and allow bacteria and food particles to stick around and trigger bad breath.
If bad breath is a concern, it could be worth limiting your consumption of these drinks.
Trying to shed pounds through a restrictive diet can actually lead to a case of bad breath. People following the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet might notice that their breath smells strange.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this is because limiting carbohydrates can cause the body to enter a metabolic state known as ketosis — when fat is burned for energy rather than carbs. One of the byproducts of this process is acetone, which may make your breath smell like nail polish remover.
Though this change might be alarming, it’s usually temporary. People following fasting diets may also notice ketosis-induced bad breath.
Having enough saliva is an important part of maintaining a healthy mouth. Chronic dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is caused when salivary glands don’t make enough saliva. This allows bacteria to flourish, leading to bad breath and tooth decay. Other symptoms of dry mouth include stringy saliva, a grooved or rough tough, and a reduced sense of taste. It’s important to get checked out by a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of dry mouth, as the condition can sometimes signal more serious problems such as diabetes or an autoimmune disease.
Depending on how serious your dry mouth is, things like chewing gum, staying properly hydrated, and not smoking can help.
That morning cup of coffee might be messing with your breath. According to WebMD, the caffeine in coffee can cause mouth dryness, leading to an overgrowth of oral bacteria. This lack of saliva can also delay the breakdown of odor-causing food particles in your mouth.
However, researchers Tel Aviv University in Israel speculate that it may be the addition of milk that makes coffee responsible for halitosis. Breath specialist Mel Rosenberg told CNN that coffee “can ferment into bad breath when mixed with substances such as milk.”
It may not be what you want to hear but limiting your coffee intake — or at least making sure you match each coffee with a glass of water — may be your best solution.
Alcohol can affect your breath in a few different ways. According to WebMD, it has a drying effect that can limit saliva production and allow bacteria to flourish. In fact, a 2018 study of 1,000 volunteers found that higher numbers of harmful bacteria in the spit samples of participants who reported drinking alcohol. These bacteria have been linked to gum disease, which may also cause bad breath.
Bad breath can sometimes be a side effect of certain drugs. Halitosis can result from taking nitrate or phenothiazine medications, as well as some chemotherapy drugs. These drugs produce noticeable odors as they break down inside the body. Additionally, medicines that cause mouth dryness can lead to or exacerbate bad breath.
You should always your doctor about possible side effects before taking medication.
Small stones formed in the tonsils can cause a bad odor. Known as tonsilloliths, tonsil stones are white or yellow pebbles formed from bits of mucus, bacteria, dead cells, and other debris. They can get stuck in your tonsils and cause symptoms like bad breath, throat pain, a metallic mouth taste, ear pressure, or the feeling that something is stuck in your throat.
Head to the dentist or your doctor to get your tonsils checked out if you suspect you have tonsilloliths.
Chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach bile and undigested food to rise back up the esophagus. In addition to causing pain and a burning sensation, this condition can lead to bad breath. Certain foods are known to exacerbate acid reflux, including coffee, peppermint, tomato products, onions, alcohol, and fried food.
Talk to your doctor if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of acid reflux. In the meantime, taking antacids can help.
A high-sugar diet can wreak havoc on your teeth, but it might also be at the root of your halitosis. When blood sugar is high, glucose levels in the saliva are often elevated. This creates a perfect environment for bacterial growth and may lead to bad breath, especially in people with diabetes.
Keep your teeth clean and cut back on sugary treats to help prevent this kind of bad breath.