What can I do about bad breath?

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Learn about what causes bad breath and how you can prevent or treat it.

Key points

  • Bad breath can be caused by bacteria that grows in the mouth, foods you eat, smoking or (in some cases) a medical condition.
  • Regular tooth brushing and flossing can help to prevent bad breath.
  • Schedule regular dentist appointments to improve your oral hygiene and prevent bad breath.

Why does bad breath happen?

Even if you brush your teeth and floss regularly, you may still notice that you have bad breath.

Bad breath, or halitosis, can be caused by bacteria that grow in the mouth. If you don’t brush regularly, bacteria can accumulate on the bits of food between your teeth. The combination of bacteria and food can make your breath smell bad.

Sometimes, you may have bad breath if you’ve eaten a food that smells powerful, like onion or garlic. If you smoke, this can also make your breath smell bad.

In some cases, you may have a medical condition that is making your breath smell worse, like gum disease or a stomach problem.

How can I prevent or treat bad breath?

The most important thing you can do to help prevent bad breath is brush your teeth twice a day, for two minutes each time. Don’t forget to brush your tongue too! You should also floss once a day.

If you wear a retainer, make sure you’re cleaning it at the same time that you brush your teeth.

Some mouthwashes, gums and mints can temporarily cover up the smell of bad breath, but that is not a permanent solution.

Schedule regular dentist appointments. Regular teeth cleaning can help improve your overall oral health. If your dentist notices that you have bad breath, they can also recommend specific mouthwashes or toothpastes to help kill bacteria and prevent plaque buildup.

A dentist can also refer you to a specialist if they notice you have gum disease or send you to your primary care provider if they think the bad breath is caused by a non-dental issue.

If you think you have bad breath, make an appointment to speak with your primary health-care provider or your dentist.

Should I tell someone they have bad breath?

If you have a friend or classmate who has bad breath, telling them might hurt their feelings. If they’re a close friend, try talking to them privately. Make it clear that you’re trying to help and don’t be rude. If it’s someone that you don’t know as well, try talking to your teacher, coach or another adult. They might be able to have a conversation with this person about their breath.

Last updated: November 20th 2023