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bad breath

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Alternative Names 
halitosis, fetororis

Unpleasant, unusual, or offensive odour to the breath

What is going on in the body? 
People with bad breath often do not know that they have the problem. However, they should be told so that they can treat the problem. A health professional might be needed to determine the cause of the odour and help the person control or eliminate the problem. There are two general causes for bad breath: local, or systemic causes from within the body other than from the mouth.

What are the causes and risks of the disease? 
Some local causes of bad breath include:
  • poor oral hygiene
  • smoking
  • abscessed tooth
  • impacted wisdom tooth
  • gum boil or gum abscess
  • certain foods
  • not eating for a long time
  • alcohol
  • mouth or throat infections
  • gum infection caused by gingivitis (gin-jiv-eye-tis), an inflammation of the gums,or periodontitis(pair-ee-oh-don-tie-tis),an inflammation of the structures supporting the tooth
  • sinus infection
  • cold or flu
  • nose infection
  • overgrown tonsils catching food, which is common in children
Some systemic causes of bad breath include:
  • drugs and medications
  • kidney disease
  • lung abscess
  • bronchitis
  • dry mouth syndrome
  • stomach or bowel problems
  • constipation
  • poorly controlled diabetes
  • liver disease
  • certain kinds of cancer
  • infection with the AIDS virus
  • debilitating diseases
What can be done to prevent the disease? 
The best place to start is with good home oral hygiene methods including brushing and flossing teeth daily. Mouthwash is not an effective treatment for bad breath since it hides the real cause. Mouthwash can also irritate the tissue in the mouth. Mouthwash and breath mints are only temporary solutions and may mask more serious problems. Also, some breath mints may contain sugars, which can cause cavities. Someone in good health may have bad breath at times, such as in the morning after a long sleep. But persistent bad breath must be examined and treated by a healthcare professional. Seeing a dentist or dental hygienist is a good place to start. If systemic causes are suspected, it may be necessary to see other healthcare professionals.

How is the disease diagnosed? 
It is difficult to self-diagnose bad breath. If bad breath is suspected, an examination by a healthcare professional might be needed.

What are the treatments for the disease? 
If improving home oral hygiene does not remove the bad breath, a healthcare professional should be seen. Once the cause of bad breath is found, the problem is usually solved quickly.

Author: Marvin Goldfogel, DDS
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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