Bad Breath – Halitosis

The term halitosis refers to a condition whereby the sufferer exhales unpleasant odors during breathing. The term comes from the Latin word breath and the suffix -osis which denotes a medical condition. As the origin of the term suggests, halitosis is not a modern condition, with records dating back to the 15th century.

In the majority of cases, bad breath develops in the mouth cavity. Its intensity depends on the time of the day and the sufferer’s diet. Certain foods contribute to having bad breath such as onion, garlic, cheese, meat, and fish. Alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity are also associated with halitosis. The unpleasant odor is stronger at night because the oral cavity is inactive and exposed to less oxygen. The odor is especially strong in the morning and often disappears after brushing, flossing, and eating.

Chronic bad breath affects one quarter of the human population and is a more serious condition. Persons suffer from it to varying degrees.

There is a simple way to determine if you suffer from bad breath. Simply lick your wrist and wait for about 10 seconds or until the saliva dries up. Then smell it – this is how your breath smells. You can try another experiment as well. It will show you the odor of the posterior or back portion of the tongue. Use a spoon, turning it upside down, to scrape your tongue’s back portion. You may have a gag reflex, which is normal. Look at what you scrapped off, which is usually a white-colored, thick material. This smell, compared to the anterior portion’s sampling shows you how your breath smells to other people.

What you can learn from this experiment is that the white coating on the tongue’s posterior portion is the main reason for having bad breath. It is more accurate to say that the bacteria living in the coating cause bad breath to occur. Another cause for bad breath is bacteria spreading around the mouth cavity. While bacteria normally live there, a rapid increase of the bacterial population becomes a problem. Dryness in the mouth also leads to halitosis, and persons suffering from it should drink more water. It is important to note that medical conditions such as kidney and liver disorders are associated with halitosis. If the condition persists, it is wise to seek medical advice.

Bad breath is not a serious medical condition itself but can be very embarrassing. It can lower the sufferer’s self-esteem and confidence, even leading to isolation and depression. However, it is not normally a sign of medical condition, and it can affect any person, irrespective of sex and age. The aged suffer from halitosis more often because tooth decay occurs more with age. However, children may also suffer from halitosis due to poor dental care and unhealthy diet.

Some medications also cause bad breath. If that is the case, your doctor may suggest alternative medication. Medicines that cause bad breath include some of the chemotherapy drugs, disulphiram, chloral hydrate, amfetamines, and dimethyl sulfoxide, among others. Decreased saliva flow, a condition known as Dry Mouth, can also cause bad breath, because the saliva is instrumental in removing the food particles remaining in your mouth after eating.

If you smoke, you might have heard that your breath ‘smells like an ashtray’. The only solution to that is to stop smoking. Smoking is also associated with the development of gum diseases, which cause bad breath. Other reasons for having bad breath are sinusitis, polyp in the nose, or a foreign body in a nostril. Finally, fasting and crash dieting can cause bad breath to occur. Crush dieting is associated with chemical substances called ketones which are released when fat breaks down. Some of the ketones are breathed out causing bad breath.


The information provided in this article does not constitute medical advice and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. If you have a health problem you should consult a licensed physician.

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