Bad Breath Causes

Bad breath seems like such a simple thing. Got bad breath? Pop a mint. Got bad breath? Use mouthwash. Got bad breath? Brush your teeth. Got bad breath? Chew some sugar-free gum. For people who have bad breath often, or halitosis, it is not that easy. There are many bad breath causes, including ailments in other systems of your body. If you are suffering from chronic bad breath, contact your Lake Forest Dentist, Dr. Fondriest. He will be happy to evaluate your teeth, gums, and oral tissue, and discuss conditions behind bad breath.

Common Bad Breath Causes


One fact everyone should know is that your tongue is the most common cause of bad breath. Thousands of bacteria live on the back of our tongues, feasting on left-over food particles, dead skin cells, and other minute debris. These bacteria produce the same foul smelling volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) found in decaying animals.

Periodontal Disease

Improper hygiene leading to periodontal disease, or more commonly known as gum disease, is another leading cause of bad breath. Our mouths are rife with bacteria which feed on the sugars and starches within our oral cavity, producing a sticky film of plaque. Brushing and flossing helps remove plaque keeping your gums healthy. If plaque is not removed, it can develop below the gumline and harden into tartar. The gums then become infected, which results in swelling, bleeding, and pus pockets. This anaerobic bacteria growing below the gumline produces VSCs resulting in halitosis.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, also causes bad breath. Your mouth is meant to be moist. Your salivary glands produce saliva which accomplishes three goals: it moistens your mouth; it cleanses your mouth by washing away food particles, and dead cells; and it protects our oral tissues by neutralizing acids produced by plaque, and killing bacteria in our mouth. A dry mouth attracts more bacteria which interact with dead cells and food debris, resulting in a foul smell. Dry mouth can result from breathing with your mouth open, medications, age, and hormonal changes.

Strong Foods

Mastication, or chewing, is one of the very first steps in our digestion process. Chewing breaks down food and mixes it with your saliva. Enzymes in saliva continue to break down food, even as it moistens it and removes it from the mouth. Nutrients from food are absorbed into the blood stream. During the digestive process, garlic and onions release allyl methyl sulfide which once absorbed into your blood stream is emitted through the breath from your lungs. That is why you continue to have bad breath even after brushing your teeth and rinsing with mouthwash, they only temporarily mask the odor.


Coffee causes bad breath for a variety of reasons. First, it slows saliva production, drying out your mouth. As stated earlier, dry mouth leads to bad breath. Second, it has a high sulfur content. When sulfur is broken down by certain bacteria it can produce an odor. Third, coffee naturally smells stronger than it tastes.

Smoking And Tobacco

We are all familiar with “smokers’ breath,” particularly after someone just finished a cigarette. But smoking can present ongoing oral problems, aside from cancer. Smokers are more likely to develop irritation of the gums, leading to periodontal disease which is a major cause of bad breath.

Bad Breath – Not So Common Causes

Chronic bad breath that does not originate from the mouth can indicate an underlying illness. Some not so common causes of bad breath include:

  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Acid reflux
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory infections (bronchitis, pneumonia)
  • Sinus infections
  • Postnasal drip

Interesting Fact

Did you know that when you are famished your body begins to burn its own fat producing a harsh smell, similar to nail polish, on your breath? Also, if you are fasting, dieting, or go long periods of time without eating, your tongue becomes coated with more bacteria, resulting in a higher content of VSCs.

About Your Lake Forest Dentist:

If you are suffering from chronic bad breath, discuss the many treatment options with your Lake Forest dentist, Dr. Fondriest. Aside from providing dependable family, general, and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from Chicago and all surrounding communities. To schedule a consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.