A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Beat the stench: What bad breath really does to your health

Illustration - Man with bad breath

In rare cases, bad breath can be tied to acid reflux, the flu or having a bad cold.

You just finished your favorite dinner that had a lot of garlic and onion. You and your family notice right away the food has left you with bad breath.

Could it be just the smelly foods lingering while you talk? Or could it be more than a little bit of garlic?

“I do see patients with bad breath,” said Megan Ryan, D.M.D., a Marshfield Clinic dentist. “But it’s almost always related to oral hygiene.”

What causes bad breath?

Bad breath, or halitosis, can be tied to a number of factors related to poor dental hygiene.

“Of course it can be from eating foods like garlic or onion,” Ryan said. “But it could be more than just food. It can be tied to cavities and just poor dental health in general.”

Other factors include dehydration and smoking.

In rare cases, bad breath can be tied to acid reflux, the flu or having a bad cold.

If you have bad breath from cavities and they are left untreated, your bad breath can get worse and you could lose teeth or an infection may develop from failing to treat the cavities.

How to get rid of the stench

Ryan says anyone can get bad breath but there are some people who are more susceptible.

“It is very common in people who smoke or people on a lot of medications, which can cause dry mouth,” she said. “So cutting back on smoking can definitely improve bad breath.”

To keep it under control, visit your dentist regularly, to make sure you don’t have cavities or an infection in your mouth. Brush your teeth and tongue, especially the back of your tongue where bacteria can build up.

Other tips include flossing once a day, using a mouth rinse and replacing your toothbrush regularly. If you still have problems, talk with your dentist.

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