Bad breath

Also known as halitosis

How do you know if you have bad breath and what can you do about it?

The smell of your own breath is hard to check by yourself. Breathing into your hands does not give you a clear picture, as you are used to your own smells and tend to only detect new odours.

The most effective home approach is to ask a trusted friend or family member to tell you honestly whether you have bad breath. Another, less reliable, method is to scrape the back of your tongue (say with a plastic teaspoon), allow it to dry and then smell it.

Some dental practices can offer tests to assess your breath odour.


The most common place where bad breath comes from is the mouth. Other sources of bad breath can be the sinuses, tonsils and stomach.

In the process of chewing and digesting food, debris can become trapped in the nooks and crevices of the mouth. If not removed by thorough cleaning, this debris is broken down by bacteria, creating a foul smell.

The back of the tongue is a favourite haunt for odour-producing bacteria, and can be overlooked in your daily oral care routine. In addition, any nasal discharge dripping down the back of the throat coats the back of the tongue and feeds the bacteria living there.

Between the teeth and in the gum lines are two other places food and bacteria tend to get trapped, rot and produce odours.

Bad breath may be temporary - some things that pass through your mouth will contribute to bad breath, but these are short term problems;the odour lasting only until you next brush, floss and scrape.

Foods such as garlic, onions and dairy are frequent culprits, while smoking and alcohol dry out the mouth and also cause unpleasant smells.

Some medical conditions can cause bad breath. If halitosis persists after you have explored, and tried to remedy, the possible causes in your mouth, a visit to your GP may be advisable to investigate other, less common causes, such as:


The best option is keeping your mouth and teeth healthy to prevent and treat bad breath. Things you can do include: 

  • brushing teeth twice a day
  • flossing once a day
  • tongue-scraping once a day
  • gum chewing (sugar-free gum)
  • gargling with an appropriate mouthwash
  • regular (once-yearly) visits to the dentist
  • probiotic treatments for halitosis are available at pharmacies.