Bad breath

About bad breath

If you have bad breath, you’re not alone. Bad breath, sometimes called halitosis, is a common problem that can affect people of any age. The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can do to deal with it.

If bad breath persists, it’s important to see your dentist. They can find out what’s causing it, give you advice on how to manage it or offer treatment if needed.

What is bad breath?

Bad breath is an unpleasant odour or taste in the mouth, caused by a build-up of plaque or bacteria. It’s a common condition faced by individuals right across the globe.

Having bad breath can be embarrassing, can even cause anxiety, and can come and go seemingly without any explanation at any time of life.


While there are many products - including chewing gum, mouthwash and fresh breath strips aimed at tackling the symptoms of bad breath, few actually address the root of the issue.

What causes bad breath?

Most causes of bad breath begin in the mouth and relate to poor oral hygiene or other lifestyle habits. There are many causes of bad breath, including: 

Poor dental hygiene

Failure to brush and floss daily causes food particles to remain in the mouth and between the teeth, causing plaque - a sticky bacterial film - to cling to the teeth. If not brushed away, plaque can irritate the gums and form pockets between the gums and teeth (periodontitis). This can lead odour-causing bacteria to remain in the mouth for longer, resulting in bad breath. 


Smokers are more likely to suffer from gum disease and periodontitis, which causes bad breath among other dental health issues. However, smoking tobacco causes its own unpleasant mouth odour, as the odorous chemicals in tobacco smoke linger in the mouth.  Find support on how to give up smoking.


When we eat, our teeth come into contact with food particles which can remain in the mouth, increasing bacteria and causing odour. Certain foods are notorious for leading to bad breath - garlic, onions, spices and fish, to name but a few. Highly pungent ingredients such as these enter the bloodstream after digesting, then cause bad breath once they enter the lungs.

Infections and mouth, nose and throat conditions

Tooth decay, and infections in the mouth, sinuses and tonsils result in bacterial build-up which can lead to odours lingering in the mouth. Other medical issues, including cancers, acid reflux and metabolic disorders can also cause strong breath odours. Your dentist might refer you to a medical professional if they suspect this is the cause of your bad breath. 

Dry mouth

Saliva plays a key role in cleansing the mouth, flushing away particles which may cause bad breath. Dry mouth (sometimes medically referred to as xerostomia) can cause mouth odours due to saliva production being restricted. This can be caused by medical and environmental factors, ranging from certain medications to smoking, drug use, dehydration or overheating. 

How to get rid of bad breath

In many cases, you can tackle bad breath with proper dental hygiene or regular visits to your dentist or hygienist, who may be able to identify the cause of your halitosis and recommend a reliable course of action. There are also several self-care techniques relating to your day-to-day oral hygiene, eating habits, and other aspects of your daily life which may improve the freshness of your breath.  

  • Brush your teeth and gums thoroughly, twice a day for two minutes
  • Clean the surface of your tongue with a brush or tongue cleaner
  • Use dental floss or interdental brushes to remove plaque (a thin, sticky film that coats your teeth and contains bacteria) and food from between your teeth.
  • If you smoke, try and stop
  • Avoid eating strong-smelling foods (such as onions, coffee and garlic)
  • Drink plenty of water – water helps wash away food particles and bacteria that are a primary cause of bad breath
  • See a hygienist regularly. They can give your mouth a deep clean and remove any plaque or bacteria. A hygienist can also give you tailored oral health advice to help you look after your mouth at home
  • Be sure to follow your dentist or hygienist’s advice carefully and if you have any questions, just ask

How a dentist can help with bad breath

If your breath isn’t getting better, see your dentist. They’ll do a thorough check-up of your teeth and gums to make sure you don’t have any underlying infections or dental conditions such as gum disease.

If your dentist can’t find out what’s causing your bad breath or thinks it’s caused by a medical condition or medication, they may suggest you see your GP.

Take control of your oral health

Staying on top of your dental health and hygiene is important, especially if you have symptoms of poor oral health such as bad breath. With Bupa Smile Plan, you can benefit from regular dental check-ups and hygienist appointments, split into manageable monthly payments, for a fresher, healthier smile that lasts a lifetime.  

Speak to your local practice

If you want to get rid of bad breath, the first step is to book an appointment at your local Bupa Dental Care practice. Your dentist can check for any oral health problems and provide recommendations and treatments if needed.

Find a Bupa Dental Care dentist near you

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Dental Care Limited. Registered in England and Wales No: 00478127. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care, Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

Oasis Dental Care Limited has a number of trading names including Bupa Dental Care. For a list of all our different trading names please follow this link.

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