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Bad Breath


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is bad breath?

Bad breath (also called halitosis) is a common symptom of poor oral hygiene, sinus infection, eating certain foods, using tobacco products, or even dry mouth. The medical term for bad breath is halitosis. Bad breath results from sulfur compounds released by bacteria in the mouth, food odors, or salivary gland dysfunction.

Ninety percent of all bad breath originates in the mouth and airway passages. Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of chronic bad breath. Without brushing and flossing daily, food particles remain in the mouth, tongue, and between the teeth. These food particles collect bacteria, causing bad breath. Infections of the gums (gingivitis) and salivary glands can both result in bad breath. Other common causes include dry mouth and smoking or chewing tobacco.

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Certain medical disorders can cause bad breath, such as post-nasal drip, tonsillitis, sinusitis and bronchitis. Gastrointestinal disorders may result in breath that smells like feces; this may indicate gastric reflux (GERD) or a bowel obstruction. Breath with a fruity odor may be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Liver failure may be indicated if breath has an ammonia-like odor.

Dental Care Tips for People With Diabetes

You might know that diabetes affects your nerves, eyes, kidneys, heart and other organs. But did you know it can also impact your teeth?

Bad breath alone is rarely a result of a serious problem. However, you should seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience bad breath along with other serious symptoms, such as high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), difficulty breathing, or prolonged vomiting.

If your bad breath is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 3, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

  1. Bad breath (halitosis). ADA: American Dental Association.
  2. Breath odor. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
  4. van den Broek AM, Feenstra L, de Baat C. A review of the current literature on management of halitosis. Oral Dis 2008; 14:30.

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