Halitosis: Know Its Cause & Learn How to Treat It

In many respects, it is the oral health condition that no one wants to talk about face-to-face. For millions of Australians and hundreds of millions of people around the world, halitosis is a very real condition that has a negative effect on personal confidence and self-consciousness. In much the same way that having bad teeth do.

Known more commonly as bad breath, halitosis is not one of the most common oral conditions. This is apparent in a research which shows that only 2.4% of the adult population in Australia actually suffers from it. It’s a research conducted by the Better Health Channel and supported by the Victorian state government.

But just because a small minority of people in Australia is diagnosed with the problem, it does not mean that only a few people are worried about having the concern. In fact, research in the US suggests that over 80,000 Americans suffer from the condition. The Huffington Post reported in 2011 that US$2 billion is spent on good breath products. The report further states that 34% of people say bad breath makes them hesitant to speak to other people and 12.5% avoided others if they felt they had bad breath.

At Happy Teeth, we have met many people who share either they have halitosis or have a deep concern that they may have it or develop it. We’re always happy to give advice on any oral health issue. So, we’ve put together this rundown of the key information on halitosis that everyone should be aware of.

What Is Halitosis and Why The Bad Smell?

Basically, this condition is exactly what the common name, bad breath, suggests. People who have halitosis emit a strong, unpleasant smell as they exhale breath through their mouths. Thankfully, it’s something that more people are concerned over than actually suffer from. Although, there are a sizeable number of people that only think they have it. This ‘delusional halitosis’ is known as halitophobia.

But for others, it is a very real problem, with a genuine bad odour being emitted as they breathe out. Research suggests that this condition is caused by bacteria in the mouth as it breaks down proteins. The bacteria which normally live on the surface of the tongue and in the throat are there naturally. So, their presence in itself is nothing to worry about, but the process by which they break protein down. It’s because it produces volatile sulphur compounds that create the bad smell. Other compounds called diamines (like Cadaverine and Putrescine) also contribute to the oral malodour.

What Causes Halitosis?

While having a high level of bacteria in the mouth is the most common cause of the condition, there are also several other potential contributors. The majority of them are completely avoidable. However, many of them are down to your own oral health regimen and lifestyle. The main alternative contributors are:


  1. Dental Conditions – It’s not a secret and is always pointed out by your dentists that poor oral hygiene can be amajor contributor to halitosis. Periodontitis, which is an infection around the teeth and gingivitis, which is commonly known as gum disease are both caused by bacteria. The link is confirmed with the presence of methyl mercaptan, known to be the greatest contributing volatile sulphur compound in halitosis. This is caused by both periodontal disease and gingivitis.


  1. Dry Mouth (xerostomia) – This is where saliva levels fall considerably. The saliva is the body’s way of washing the mouth out and breaking down food particles. When saliva is not available, the bacteria are able to work away uninterrupted. Breaking down protein and producing those nasty-smelling volatile sulphur compounds.


Dry mouth can also be caused by a selection of medicines like betel, dimethyl sulfoxide, and some chemotherapy medicines as well as alcohol. Ironically, it is also mainly caused by the very product people try to take to fight this oral condition such as mouthwash. Mouthwash contains alcohol, which dries the mouth. Other reasons for dry mouth include stress or a number of medical conditions.


  1. Smoking – Logically, smokers’ breath smells bad because of this smoking habit. Because smoking starves the mouth of oxygen, it also contributes to poor oral health in general. This in turn contributes to the development of halitosis.


  1. Food – This is the most commonly blamed contributor of halitosis However, it’s not always the reason behind this oral condition. Eating certain foods like onions, garlic and cauliflower can create bad breath. The proteins contain in these foods are broken down in the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream. It is then carried to the lungs then released in your breath. But these effects are experienced only in a short period of time.


In some very rare cases, the bad odour on the breath is a sign of non-related health concerns which include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Various carcinomas
  • Metabolic dysfunctions
  • Biochemical disorders.

Treating Halitosis

It is not that difficult to either treat halitosis or actively prevent its development. It all really comes down to oral hygiene practices. With a conscientious approach likely to drastically reduce the chances of suffering bad breath, you can successfully treat this kind of oral problem. Just follow these simple tips below.

  • Brush and Floss Regularly – Brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day is very important. Brushing removes bacteria and food particles while flossing removes plaque that may be trapped in between teeth.
  • Avoid Dehydration – Dehydration is the number one reason for inadequate saliva levels causing a dry mouth. Having a dry mouth as we have mentioned earlier leaves bacteria free to create that nasty smell. If you have been drinking alcohol, rehydrate with a glass of water or two before going to bed. Otherwise, keep your alcohol intake to a minimum.
  • Clean Your Tongue – Since much of the bacteria responsible for halitosis occupy on the back of the tongue, be sure to clean the tongue with your toothbrush or a tongue scraper.
  • Chew Gum – If you chew a sugar-free gum, you keep saliva levels up so it helps fight the bacteria build-up. But keep in mind that this does not cure the condition.
  • Clean Your Dentures – In fact, any items that you might wear inside the mouth, from dentures to retainers to mouth guards used in sport can cause bad breath. Make sure you clean them thoroughly before putting them in your mouth again.
  • Mouthwashes – This is a tricky treatment, but some mouthwashes, lozenges and oral deodorising sprays can assist in fighting halitosis. Make sure you speak to your dentist first before using any of these. Some of the most commonly available do little other than just mask the smell for a limited period.

Speak To Us at Happy Teeth

At Happy Teeth, we have helped many patients overcome halitosis and its negative psychological effects. A simple conversation with us can reveal the reason behind the condition. We provide treatment that are effective and can be very straightforward. For more details on your dental options at Happy Teeth, check outour website or contact us directly at (02) 8084 4942.

For more on halitosis, its causes and for possible treatment process, check out an interview that was carried out by ABC’s Health Report. It is hosted by Dr Norman Swan with Dr Beatrice Gandara of the University of Washington in Seattle. True, it’s dated 1997, but the information is still relevant. So, it’s well worth the read.