Bad Breath: More Than Just Garlic and Onions

Are garlic and onions the fall guys for bad breath?  We think so.  While it’s true these foods cause bad breath, many don’t understand that poor oral health – including dental disease – also is a culprit. Let’s take a look at three main dental-related causes of bad breath, as well as their solutions.

Cause 1: Bacteria

Patients are always surprised when I remind them to brush their tongues. That is because the bacteria lingering on your tongue secrete volatile-sulfur compounds (VSC), which give off a rotten egg smell.

VSC-secreting bacteria can come from food that was not cleaned off, as well as from nasal drip and dead epithelial cells. It thrives in the posterior dorsum area of the tongue, which is often drier and relatively more poorly cleansed than the rest of the tongue.

Illnesses can also contribute to the buildup of this bacteria. For instance, strep throat can cause “strep breath” due to streptococcus bacteria on the tongue, which can be even more potent than regular halitosis, the technical term for bad breath.


Your daily oral care routine is the most important way to prevent bad breath.  Add tongue-scraping to the routine.  A tongue-scraper is often found on the back of toothbrushes, and can help remove VSC-secreting bacteria.

Can a stick of gum or a mint help reduce bacteria? Actually, sugary foods lead to even more bacteria. Mints and gum packed with sugar can weaken your enamel and lead to dental decay.

Use sugar-free mints or gum with xylitol, a plant-based, naturally-occurring product that is used as a sugar substitute. It tastes sweet. Unlike sugar, it actually reduces levels of cavity-inducing bacteria.  It also does not change the acidity in your mouth, which is what causes tooth decay.

Cause 2: Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Bad breath can also be a sign of periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal disease is an infection in your gum tissue caused by bacteria sitting in gum tissue and jawbones. It can leave both a foul smell and a bad taste in your mouth.


Dental hygiene! Daily brushing of teeth and tongue, flossing, and using mouthwash are all great ways to prevent gum disease. Schedule routine exams every six months for cleanings and to check for any disease that could be contributing to bad breath.

Cause 3: Dental Decay (Cavities)

Bad breath could be caused by undiagnosed tooth decay — which, in addition to being painful, can be very smelly!

The bacterial erosion of tooth enamel leads to dental decay. Residues of food particles build up on the tongue, gums and in between the teeth, and the growth of bacteria soon follow. This not only results in plaque and cavities, but halitosis, too.

Tooth decay is common among children. Twenty percent of children between the ages two and four have at least one cavity, as do nearly 80 percent of all children under the age of 17.


If you have them, get cavities filled.  The smell should go away. To prevent dental decay itself, it is important to maintain good dental hygiene.  Brush, floss and rinse your mouth twice daily. Also, drink water as much as possible to clear away remaining food particles.

Bad breath can be fixed by a simple lifestyle change, such as a tongue scraper or a mouth rinse. However, make sure to visit your dentist routinely to ensure your bad breath is not indicative of any underlying health issues or dental conditions.

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