What is bad breath?

Bad breath (also called halitosis) is a common symptom of poor oral hygiene, sinus infection, eating certain foods, using tobacco products, or even dry mouth. The medical term for bad breath is halitosis. Bad breath results from sulfur compounds released by bacteria in the mouth, food odors, or salivary gland dysfunction.

Ninety percent of all bad breath originates in the mouth and airway passages. Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of chronic bad breath. Without brushing and flossing daily, food particles remain in the mouth, tongue, and between the teeth. These food particles collect bacteria, causing bad breath. Infections of the gums (gingivitis) and salivary glands can both result in bad breath. Other common causes include dry mouth and smoking or chewing tobacco.

Certain medical disorders can cause bad breath, such as post-nasal drip, tonsillitis, sinusitis and bronchitis. Gastrointestinal disorders may result in breath that smells like feces; this may indicate gastric reflux (GERD) or a bowel obstruction. Breath with a fruity odor may be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Liver failure may be indicated if breath has an ammonia-like odor.

Bad breath alone is rarely a result of a serious problem. However, you should seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience bad breath along with other serious symptoms, such as high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), difficulty breathing, or prolonged vomiting.

If your bad breath is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.


What other symptoms might occur with bad breath?

Bad breath may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Oral symptoms that may occur along with bad breath

Bad breath may accompany other symptoms affecting the mouth including:


What causes bad breath?

Bad breath results from the action of bacteria that cause the breakdown of food particles in your mouth. Eating foods, such as onions and garlic, are a common source of bad breath. Chemicals from these foods are absorbed into the bloodstream, carried to your lungs, and exhaled.

Infections of the mouth and gums can cause bad breath and are often associated with poor oral hygiene. I... Read more about bad breathcauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health