Bad breath is medically termed halitosis, originating from the Latin word “halitus” that translates to breath and the Greek word “osis” which implies a diseased or sick state. Known by many other designations, including fetor oris, putrid breath and oral malodour, bad breath is a widespread condition and is the third most common dental complaint, after cavities i.e. tooth decay and gingivitis, that is gum disease.

Also Read: Gum Disease: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Halitosis/Bad Breath

In some instances, bad breath is merely a fleeting occurrence and disappears with the use of mouthwash liquids, strong mints and chewing gums. But these menthol substances are only effective when the problem of bad breath is a seldom event and are not useful in severe, persistent issues of halitosis. In a vast majority - 85 per cent of individuals who suffer from halitosis, the foul odour originates within the mouth. However, at times, bad breath indicates abnormalities in other organs – throat, sinuses, nose, food pipe, food pipe i.e. oesophagus and stomach. Furthermore, liver problems like fibrosis, cirrhosis and ketoacidosis generate bad breath as well, albeit in rare circumstances.

Also Read: Hepatic Cirrhosis: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Identifying the extent of bad breath issues in an individual and providing the pertinent remedial measures aids in resolving halitosis and all its accompanying symptoms. Although it does not lead to any alarming complications, bad breath is still embarrassing and regarded as a social taboo, creating anxiety, depression symptoms in affected persons and hence must be reported to a medical expert and treated promptly.

Causes Of Halitosis/Bad Breath

Numerous factors contribute to a pungent odour emanating from a person. These predominantly develop within the mouth and include differing aspects, such as:

  • Improper and inadequate oral hygiene practices, like not brushing and/or flossing every day
  • Eating foods with high amounts of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) like eggs, onions, garlic
  • Habitual smoking of tobacco using cigarettes, other products
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • High levels of mental stress, worry, tension
  • Already having dry mouth conditions i.e. xerostomia
  • Pre-existing oral infections, like mouth sores and dental decay
  • Inflammation or infection in the nose, throat, sinuses
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like heartburn, GERD
  • A side effect of other prescription medications
  • Grave ailments such as liver failure


The defining sign of bad breath or putrid breath is a very strong, unpleasant smell stemming from the mouth of the affected person. Nevertheless, sometimes, bad breath is accompanied by minor tooth pain and discomfort in gums.

Also Read: Tooth Pain: Your Dental Discomfort Could Be An Indication of Various Underlying Conditions

The type of odour depends on the causative factor of halitosis. The afflicted individual may not be able to determine the nature of bad breath and hence it is recommended to seek help from a family member or friend in identifying the reason behind halitosis. Otherwise, one method of self-analysis exists, which involves licking one’s wrist, allowing it to dry and then inhaling in the vicinity to gauge the kind of odour.

Diagnosis And Treatment

The dentist initially assesses the smell ascending from the mouth as well as the nose of the patient and then rates the odour on a scale, to estimate how severe the instance of halitosis is, in the individual. Since the rear portion of the tongue is frequently the site at which the foul odour is derived from, the dentist also collects a sample by scraping a bit of tissue, analyses it and ranks the smell.

The best way to treat situations of bad breath, as well as prevent them from recurring, is to adhere to good, proper oral hygiene conducts. These comprise brushing, cleaning the tongue and flossing daily, gargling the mouth after eating meals and getting routine dental checkups to ensure optimal oral health. If bad breath is an incessant complaint pertaining to the mouth, then the dental professional prescribes specific mouth-rinsing fluids, medicated toothpaste with antibacterial components, as well as teeth, gum cleaning procedures, to eliminate plaque, microbial germs, cavities. When maladies in other organs are identified to be the cause of halitosis, such as the nose, lungs, throat, stomach or liver, then the appropriate underlying illnesses are rectified, which eventually mends the problem of halitosis, uplifting oral health.