What Is Bad Breath and How Do You Get Halitosis?

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About 75 percent of bad breath originates in our mouths. Decaying food caught between our teeth, coupled with dead cells and bacteria sitting on our tongues are the major culprits. Regular flossing and brushing our teeth and tongue can improve or eliminate many cases of bad breath, which is medically termed halitosis.

However, if your halitosis doesn’t get better with improved dental care, you may have a more serious health problem than lax oral hygiene. Bad breath, especially if it’s particularly pungent or odd smelling, can be a symptom of illness or disease. Here’s a look at some health conditions that can help answer the question, "Why bad breath?"

  • Bowel obstruction: A block in your large intestine can cause you to have breath that smells like feces.

  • Diabetes: Breath that smells like a fruity nail polish remover (acetone) can accompany ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes. Ketoacidosis occurs when the body can’t metabolize sugars for fuel and uses fats instead. This results in a dangerous build up of ketones in the body. People who are on an extremely low-carb diet can also produce this same, fruity breath.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Halitosis can occur when stomach acids and food contents back up into your esophagus (the tube that stretches from your stomach to your throat).

  • Gingivitis and periodontitis: Inflammation in your gums (gingivitis) and its more severe form (periodontitis) can cause foul breath. The bacteria and plaque buildup at the root of these diseases is what causes offensive breath.

  • Kidney failure: If your kidneys aren’t filtering wastes properly, it can cause your breath to smell like urine or ammonia.

  • Liver failure: Breath that has a fishy or musty odor can indicate that your liver has stopped doing its job of filtering toxins from your body.

  • Lung diseases: If you suffer from lung abscesses (pockets of pus) or chronic lung infections you can develop very severe halitosis.

  • Respiratory infections: Bad breath can be caused by a number of nose, throat, and chest maladies, including: bronchitis, post-nasal drip, sinusitis, sore throat, and tonsillitis.

You can’t necessarily trust your nose to let you know you’ve got halitosis. That’s because our noses build up a tolerance for the way we smell. To make sure your breath is not offensive, ask your dentist, doctor, or a trusted friend or family member to give you the sniff test.

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