HEALTH TALK: All you need to know about halitosis (Bad breath).

Bad breath also known as halitosis or fetor oris. It can cause significant worry, embarrassment and anxiety but it is relatively easy to remedy. It is estimated to affect 1 in 4 people globally.

The most common cause of halitosis is bad oral hygiene.

Best treatment for bad breath is regular brushing, flossing and hydration.

Halitosis is the third most common reason that people seek dental care.


1. Tobacco. 

Tobacco causes their own types of mouth odor. Additionally, they increase chances of gum disease which can cause bad breath.

2. The breakdown of food stuff stuck in the mouth can cause odors. Some foods such as onions and garlic can cause bad breath.

3. Drugs.

Certain medication can reduce saliva hence increase odor.

4. Mouth and throat condition.

Sometimes, small, bacteria covered stones can form tonsils and produce odor.

Image Courtesy: Woman using breath freshener

5. Diseases.

Some cancers, liver failure and other metabolic diseases can cause halitosis.

6. Dental hygiene.

Brushing and flossing ensure that the removal of small particles of food that can build up and slowly break down producing odor.

7. Dry mouth.

Saliva naturally cleans the mouth. If the mouth is naturally dry due to a specific disease such as xerostomia, odors can build up.


Specific odor of bad breath can vary depending on the cause of the problem. It is best to ask a close friend or relative to gauge your mouth odor as it can be difficult to assess yourself.

Another way of checking odor is to lick your wrist leave it to dry and then smell it. Bad breath on the area of the wrist suggests you are likely to have halitosis.


A dentist will smell the breath of a person with suspected halitosis and rate the odor on a six point intensity scale. They include;

1. Halimeter.

Detects low levels of sulfur.

2. BANA test.

Measures levels of a specific enzyme produced by halitosis causing bacteria.

3. Gas chromatography.

The test measures three volatile sulfur compounds ie hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan and dimethyl sulfide.

4. Beta galactosidase test.

Levels of the enzyme beta galactosidase have been found to correlate with mouth odor.


The best method to reduce halitosis is good oral hygiene.

It is recommended that individuals visit the dentist for check up twice a year.

The dentist may recommend a toothpaste that includes anti bacterial agent.

Alternatively, if a gum disease is present professional cleaning may be necessary to clear out the build up of bacteria.

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