Picture this: you’re on a date with your Valentine and you lean in for a kiss, but your bad breath causes your partner to pull away. Not a pleasant picture, right? That’s why we’ve assembled some information on what causes bad breath and some tips for preventing it.

Bad breath (“halitosis”) is more common than you might think, with as many as one in three Australians suffering from halitosis according to the Australian Dental Association.[1] A survey commissioned by the ADA also found that bad breath and decayed teeth are the biggest turn-offs for 83% of people on a first date.[2]

If you frequently experience halitosis, improving your oral hygiene habits or making minor lifestyle changes could be all it takes to banish bad odours. But in some cases, bad breath is just one symptom of a more serious health problem that needs professional attention.

What causes bad breath?

Many cases of bad breath come down to poor oral hygiene.

The same bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease also produce unpleasant odours if plaque is allowed to build up inside your mouth. Food that gets trapped between your teeth also contributes to bad breath, as well as feeding the bacteria.

But there can be many other reasons for bad breath too, such as:

Food and drink

Strongly flavoured foods such as onions, garlic and spices can linger on your breath if you don't clean your mouth. The same goes for strongly flavoured drinks like coffee and alcohol. The effect can continue even after the food is digested, as breakdown products make their way through the blood to the lungs.


If you need even more reasons to quit smoking, tobacco products can make your breath smell and increase your risk of gum disease, a leading cause of halitosis.

Dry mouth

Saliva is a natural cleanser for your mouth. If your mouth is often dry – due to a medical condition, a side-effect of medication or just when you wake up in the morning – this can cause odours to build up.

Medical conditions

As well as dry mouth syndrome (xerostomia), other medical conditions that can affect the breath include diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and respiratory infections, such as bronchitis, sinusitis and tonsillitis.


The medication you're taking for a health condition can also have a side-effect of reducing saliva production or causing traces of chemicals to be released in the breath. Medication commonly associated with bad breath includes nitrates, certain tranquillisers and chemotherapy medication.

How you can avoid bad breath

If you think you've tracked down the root of the problem, most cases of bad breath can be banished quite simply. You should:

  • Brush your teeth (properly) at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss at least once a day to remove food trapped between your teeth.
  • Brush your tongue or buy a tongue scraper.
  • Gargle with a fluoride mouthwash.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth hydrated.
  • Avoid strongly flavoured food and drink.
  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol that dehydrate the mouth.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or breath mints.
  • Talk to your doctor about changing your medication if it's causing bad breath.

Read more oral hygiene tips for fresher breath and healthier teeth and gums.

Why you need to visit your dentist

Bad breath isn't just a matter of preference – it's sometimes a sign of a larger problem that could be affecting your oral and general health.

Your dentist will check for bad breath as part of your routine check-up, but if you've noticed persistent bad breath and home remedies aren't working, you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

During your appointment, your dentist will professionally clean your teeth and remove the plaque that harbours bacteria. They'll also tell you if you have any cavities, gum disease or other problems that are responsible for your bad breath, and then arrange suitable treatment.

Catching oral health problems at an early stage means they're much easier to treat and can reduce the risk of more serious problems.


[1] Australian Dental Association Inc. Kiss Goodbye to Bad Breath [Online] 2016 [Accessed Feb 2017] Access from: www.adasa.asn.au

[2] Australian Dental Association Inc. Tooth Decay – Australia's Most Prevalent Health Condition [Online] 2012 [Accessed Feb 2017] Access from: www.adawa.com.au