13 Strategies to Improve Bad Breath

Bad breath, stinky breath or halitosis (to give it the medical name) can be a sensitive and embarrassing problem. How awful do you feel when a loved one has told you that you have bad breath and you didn’t realize? Or worse still, how bad is it when you realize that clients or colleagues have put up with your bad breath and no-one told you? Fast track to the 13 Strategies

Is bad breath common in women?

My experience has shown that 1 in 4 people admit to having halitosis.  I even suspect the number could be higher and I venture to say that everyone has halitosis at some stage during the day. There are the obvious bad breath culprits that most of us are aware of such as that yummy garlic bread which you ate last night, the mandatory morning cup of coffee or that stale odour when you first wake up in the morning. However, there are lots of reasons for bad breath and women are more likely to have bad breath due to hormonal changes. (More on that later.) Obviously fastidious and regular oral hygiene helps a lot to control the situation, but did you know that there are many causes from taking the contraceptive pill or other medications, certain foods, some illnesses, menopause, gum disease, tooth decay and even using certain types of toothpaste that can be associated with bad breath. But basically, halitosis is caused by a build up of a group of chemicals known as sulphide compounds.

How to tell if you have bad breath

You cannot check the smell of your breath by blowing into your hand

It can be challenging to determine if you have bad breath as it is usually impossible to pick up on one’s own scent. Furthermore, because it’s embarrassing, family members, friends and work colleagues may not feel comfortable to tell you. It is possible to check it yourself. You cannot check the smell of your breath by blowing into your hand. It just doesn’t work. Your “smelling function” is designed so that you cannot detect your own odour and your senses become used to the smell of your own breath as you breathe all day. It’s a process called acclimatization which helps us to detect most odours quickly without being overwhelmed by our own. It’s much the same as not being able to smell the odour of your own home but other people can.

Your “smelling function” is designed so that you cannot detect your own odour

If you feel awkward about asking the opinion of a trusted friend or family member, there are a few ways in which you can test your own breath. Try wiping the top surface of your tongue with a piece of cotton gauze and smelling it. If there’s a foul smell and/or a yellowish stain on the cotton, it’s likely that you have a raised sulphide production level and bad breath.

You could also lick the back of your hand, let it to dry for 20 seconds or so and then smell it, or use piece of dental floss between your back teeth where food and plaque tend to remain, and then smell the floss or you can stand in front of the mirror and stick your tongue out as far as possible. If the very back of your tongue is a whitish colour, it may be a sign that you have bad breath.

4 Ways to Test:woman with bad breath covering her mouth

  • wiping your tongue
  • lick the back of your hand
  • dental floss
  • seek a professional diagnosis from a dentist

The very best way to identify the source of your halitosis is to seek out a professional diagnosis from a dentist. Be prepared to be open and honest with the dentist who is performing the examination because the dentist needs to understand all the health problems you are experiencing in order to determine the underlying cause of the halitosis and recommend the appropriate treatment.


What are the most common causes of Bad Breath

Everyone gets bad breath, including people who are diligent toothbrushers and regular users of dental floss. Whilst good oral hygiene is so important to prevent halitosis, other factors have a bigger impact. The food you eat such as onion, garlic, coffee, curry, dairy, meat, fish and refined sugars, drinking alcohol, the medications you take and your lifestyle habits will change the environment of your mouth and make it favourable to those sulphur-producing, bad breath related bacteria.  Some illnesses can be associated with bad breath.

Is there a connection between bad breath and general health

A healthy mouth is so much more than just about maintaining a great smile and being able to chew your food. The mouth is the entrance to our bodies and what we put in to it and how we treat it has an inseparable link to our overall health and general wellbeing. Conversely, the health of the mouth also reflects our general health.  Do you remember the doctor looking at your tongue when you were a sick kid? A vet will always check the mouth of a sick pet dog or cat for the same reason.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of all halitosis cases are caused by certain illnesses. Individuals who suffer from diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, cancer (such as throat or lung), liver disease, respiratory tract infections, or metabolic disorders often experience chronic foul breath. Many of these patients’ medications also cause dry mouth as a side effect and this in turn can also cause bad breath. Sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, the common cold, and nasal polyps affect the airways and may also contribute to the problem. Other common illnesses associated with bad breath include tonsillitis, tonsil stones, yeast infections of the mouth, tooth decay and gum disease. Certain drugs such as antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and antihistamines can cause dry mouth because they reduce saliva production.

Halitosis is rarely associated with life-threatening diseases. However, it is important that you consult your doctor or dentist as soon as you notice any changes in the mouth such as white spots on the tonsils and sores in the mouth with or without a fever. Sometimes bad breath is triggered by severe health conditions such as dehydration, throat or mouth cancers, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, digestive system disorders such as Crohn’s disease, or diabetes, and it can be an indication of zinc deficiency. Taking proper care of your teeth and visiting the dentist at least twice a year are the easiest ways to avoid these issues  being diagnosed late and reducing the prognosis of the disease.

Additional factors for Halitosis for Women

Most causes of bad breath don’t discriminate between the sexes. The incidence of bad breath that is caused by food and bacteria, smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol and some medications, is evenly split between the two sexes. However, there are certain hormonal triggers in women such as birth control pills, pregnancy and the menstrual cycle that can cause mouth dryness which can then lead to a higher incidence of bad breath.

Can Bad Breath be Cured ?

Prevention is way better than Cure

A few good habits is the start of preventing bad breath. The regular use of alcohol-free mouth rinses such as those containing stabilized chlorine dioxide will help to neutralize the sulphur compounds contained in  odours and work to both control germs associated with gum inflammation and disease and reduce the formation of the biofilm which leads to plaque and tartar build-up.

Fruits, vegetables and legumes and high fibre foods also help to prevent halitosis. These foods require more chewing action and have a high water content, so they promote saliva production in the mouth, alleviate the dry mouth and flush away the bad breath. Apples, celery and carrots, alongside other fresh produce will work to “brush” the teeth but they don’t replace brushing with a toothbrush.

Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough or by losing more fluid than you take in and can be aggravated by many factors including sweating, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic health conditions, poor diet and strenuous exercise. Dehydration can cause a range of oral health issues that include dry mouth, known as xerostomia, halitosis, dental caries (cavities) and gum inflammation (gingivitis). Staying hydrated is also a key factor in keeping your mouth healthy. Green and black teas contain polyphenols that help to eliminate sulphur compounds and reduce oral bacteria and hence help with halitosis prevention.

13 Strategies to Help Improve Bad Breath

  •  Gargle your mouth with water or a mouthwash.
  • Brush your teeth, gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth, at least twice a day with toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth once every day, preferably at night
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco or chemical products, such as vaping, snuff or chewing (spit) tobacco.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that cause bad breath, such as garlic, onion and alcohol.
  • Eat at regular intervals. Dieting or missing meals can decrease salivary flow and cause bad breath.
  • Chew sugar-free gum, or suck on sugar-free mints to stimulate your salivary flow.
  • Try using breath sticks, which contain the same ingredients which are found in a mouthwash and dissolve in your mouth.
  • Remove full or partial dentures, removable bridges, or orthodontic appliances and clean them once a day to remove plaque and food debris or clean these as directed by your dentist. Do not clean these while they are in your mouth.
  • Have regular dental checkups.
  • If the halitosis is still persistent, make an appointment to see your medical practitioner or an ear, nose, and throat specialist to determine if the source of the bad odour is coming from your throat, lungs or stomach.


How to (tactfully) tell someone that they have bad breath

I’m a firm believer that honesty is the best policy. However, it’s important to remember that bad breath can really affect a person’s confidence and so if you’re going to say something, it’s essential that you choose your words wisely and sensitively. Many people are completely unaware that they have bad breath as it is practically impossible to smell your own breath, so bear this in mind when you approach the issue. Sending an email is probably too much. Sending a toothbrush and toothpaste via courier might be too subtle. Choose a private setting for your conversation and perhaps direct them to this article – that way the rest is up to them?



Dr Jeffrey Kestenberg is an Australian General Dentist who graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1980 and completed his Masters Degree in prosthodontics in 1982. In 1983 he was awarded a fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons.

He has a keen interest in microdentistry, minimally invasive dentistry and laser dentistry. In recognition of his efforts, Jeff was awarded a Fellowship of the World Congress of Minimally Invasive Dentistry. He also has an interest in the dental treatment of tongue tie and /or lip tie, snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.Jeff has been at Coburg Dental Group since 1981 and is a consultant in Prosthodontics at Monash Medical Centre where he treats cancer patients after mouth surgery to reconstruct their teeth.

He has also been a clinical teacher and examiner for final year students at the University of Melbourne, an examiner for the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons and a Panel member for the Dental Board of Australia / Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and has mentored and audited dentists for those organizations.

He has also lectured locally, interstate and overseas to undergraduate and graduate dentists on laser dentistry, prosthodontics and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Dr Kestenberg can be contacted via his webpage at www.coburgdentalgroup.com.au


  1. Linda

    There are sooo many cases of people mostly doing all the right things but end up with,, worst of all,, ‘poo breath’. Mine has lasted a decade or more.. I do not enter into any relationships. Stimes if i am in a small closed environment, they will say who passed wind & then i know ive still got this dreadful problem.. From what ive read its some terrible health condition which i dont have the disease. Its like my pipes to my back passage are coming out of my airways instead..

    • admin

      Linda, what at terrible time you have been enduring! Had you thought of contacting our guest specialist? His web address is at the bottom of our Halitosis article. One thing I have learned about health conditions is that general advice is effective for 90+% of cases. For some people they try everything and still have no or incomplete success. This may be the time to seek out the really, really experienced, in this case dental specialists or doctors who have worked through the seemingly impossibly difficult cases and see beyond the obvious. The out-of-the-square thinkers. Good Luck


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