Halitosis — or bad breath — may be due to poor oral hygiene, but this isn’t always the case. It can also occur due to a number of health conditions, including dry mouth, heartburn or even disease in another part of your body. Treatment for halitosis depends on the underlying cause.
Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. Everyone gets bad breath from time to time — especially after eating garlic, onions or other strong foods. But bad breath that doesn’t go away (chronic halitosis) could mean you have an oral health issue or a condition that’s affecting another part of your body.
Halitosis is a symptom of many different conditions. In other words, it’s like a warning message from your body. Finding the root cause of halitosis is the first step in treating the issue.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Halitosis is a widespread condition, affecting approximately 1 out of 4 people around the globe. One research study, which combined the findings of 13 medical journal articles, found that halitosis affects about 31.8% of the population.
The main halitosis symptom is foul-smelling breath that doesn’t go away. The odor may be strong enough for other people to notice.
The most common cause of halitosis is poor oral hygiene. Without proper oral hygiene — like brushing, flossing and routine dental cleanings — harmful bacteria invade your mouth and multiply out of control. This can lead to several oral health issues like halitosis, cavities and gum disease.
While poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of halitosis, it’s not the only one. There are several other conditions that can cause bad breath, including:
If you have chronic halitosis, it could mean you have gum disease. This isn’t always the case, though. Halitosis can also be a symptom of the conditions listed in the section above.
If you have bad breath that doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with your dentist. If halitosis is due to poor oral hygiene, a dental cleaning or periodontal (gum) procedure should help. If you have healthy teeth and gums, then halitosis may be linked to an issue in another part of your body.
If you have a bad taste in your mouth, you probably have a mouth odor that others can smell. To find out for sure, have an assessment with your dentist.
Halitosis treatment depends on the root cause of the issue. For example, if bad breath is due to poor oral hygiene, a dental cleaning and improved oral hygiene at home will likely help.
But if halitosis is a symptom of another condition somewhere else in your body, your primary healthcare provider can help you with proper diagnosis and treatment.
Occasionally, your dentist may recommend special mouth rinses to combat certain bacteria in your mouth.
As mentioned above, treating the underlying condition is the only halitosis cure. Gum and breath mints only cover up the problem.
Once your healthcare provider determines what caused halitosis, they can create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.
Proper oral hygiene is the best way to keep your breath smelling clean and fresh. Here are some general guidelines:
Here are some tips and tricks for brushing your teeth properly:
Cleaning between your teeth is just as important as brushing. Floss can clean places that your toothbrush can’t reach. To floss properly:
If you haven’t been flossing, there might be some bleeding and discomfort for the first few days, but that should go away.
Most people can get rid of chronic halitosis by treating the underlying condition. That could be as simple as improving your oral hygiene routine.
If chronic bad breath is due to an underlying health condition, then there may be some trial and error to figure out what works for you. Your healthcare provider may need to try different medications or change your dosages. Or they may ask to run more tests to determine the exact cause.
If you practice good hygiene and you still have halitosis, schedule an appointment with your dentist. Some people build up plaque faster than others and may just need more frequent cleanings. You can also schedule an appointment with a periodontist (gum disease specialist) who can see if gum disease is the cause of halitosis.
If your dentist doesn’t find any oral health issues — such as cavities or gum disease — then your primary care physician can determine if another condition is causing halitosis.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Halitosis is a common condition that can cause embarrassment or low self-esteem. But bad breath isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s often just your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t quite right. The good news is that you can usually get rid of halitosis by treating the underlying health condition. Your dentist and primary care physician can work together to find out what’s effective for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.