The Root Causes of Bad Breath and The Importance of Proper Oral Care

Bad breath has the potential to cause some of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences in social situations. Unfortunately, it is a prevalent condition. Even healthy, hygienic individuals can have their share of bads days with this disease.

All of us wake up with some form of “morning breath.” Humans have been fighting this scourge for thousands of years. Egyptians invented the concept of the breath mint, made from boiled spices like cinnamon mixed with honey. The Chinese invented the toothbrush in the 15th century.

In the case of ordinary morning breath, those methods mentioned above can certainly help. As well as daily oral care maintenance such as brushing and flossing with string floss or an oral irrigator.

But morning breath is just the mildest, universal form of bad breath. There are other types as well, caused by different factors. Halitosis is the medical name for bad breath. Let's analyze some of the most common causes of halitosis, and the underlying science as we know it so far.

The Basics - What causes the stink?

Be it harmless morning breath, or a symptom of some other serious medical condition, all types of bad breath have one common factor: bacteria. They are the main causative agent behind the stink in our mouth.

They thrive on remnants of chewed food in between our teeth and gums. Once they multiply on these particles, they cause chemical reactions that break down the compounds in the food, creating Volatile Sulfur Compounds.

These are very foul smelling stuff like hydrogen sulfide and ethyl mercaptan, created when amino acids are broken down by bacterial action. These are the same compounds that cause the rotten egg smell. And they are the same ones that raise the almighty stink in our mouths.

Why is Bad Breath the Worst in Mornings?

The number factor here is saliva, or rather, the lack of it. During the daytime, when we are awake, the body is continuously producing saliva. This flushes away most of the food particles sticking around in the mouth. This inhibits bacterial growth and reduces the risk of bad breath.

But at night, when we are asleep, less saliva is secreted. Any food particles left behind after dinner has a higher chance of persisting in the oral cavity. And the bacteria gets to have a feast at night, leading to morning breath.

Many of us also tend to sleep with our mouths open. This causes increased dryness, encouraging further bacterial growth. Always remember this: the drier your mouth, the smellier it becomes.

Poor Oral Hygiene - A Major Cause

There are several ways in which lack of oral hygiene can contribute to bad breath. For starters, not brushing or flossing at night leaves behind food particles in your mouth. If you clean your mouth before going to bed, the chance for bad breath can be significantly reduced.

And in the long term, poor oral health leads to increased cavities and plaque. All these can house even more food particles and bacterium. Often, saliva alone cannot flush away the particles stuck in cavities, leading to severe and persistent halitosis even in daytime. Tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral conditions can also cause smelly breath.

The Throat and Sinus Area Causes

Tonsils in the throat are often a site of bacterial infections. They are responsible for blocking pollutants and particles that enter your body through the mouth. Often, bacterial debris and other particles accumulate on tonsils, causing a condition called tonsil stones.

Chronic sinus infections and sinusitis often result in an accumulation of bacteria in the nasal region. They work on the excess mucus, releasing volatile smelly compounds. These are just some of the common causes of bad breath emanating from your throat and nose.

The Lung Factor

No matter how hard or how often your brush or floss, bad breath is often just a bite away! Certain foodstuffs carry a higher risk of bad breath. Garlic and onions are common offenders. Alcohol is another major factor. When you consume these, the smelly compounds get absorbed into the blood and travel to the lungs.

From there, they can create foul odors in the mouth, which leads to extra stinky breath after a night of boozing. Smoking is another lung-related cause of bad breath as well. That one is pretty self-explanatory. Good quality breath mints can offer marginal assistance in these cases.  

Infections in the lungs, as well as other parts of the body, can also lead to some form of halitosis. In these situations, the bad breath is often a sign of a severe health problem, which could even be a form of cancer. Diabetes often results in a sickly sweet sort of bad breath which is well recognized.

This is why you need to consult your doctor if bad breath persists even after extensive brushing and flossing.

Stomach Related Causes

Your diet and stomach can also have an impact on the breath. Dieting or starvation can lead to the production of excess stomach gases which can come out through the mouth. Research indicates that low carb diets like Atkins can lead to increased bad breath. Conditions like lactose intolerance, and GERD can also point to instances of halitosis.


Bad breath can be a condition on its own, but more often it is a sign of some underlying cause. These can be relatively benign, like minor infections or cavities, or something far more life-threatening like liver disease or cancer. So it is imperative to get persistent instances of bad breath checked out by your dentist or GP right away.