a man checking to see if he has bad breath

Bad breath (halitosis in doctorspeak) is not a topic for polite conversation. In fact even your dentist or best friend may not bring up the subject of dragon breath.
Many people are painfully aware of their breath problem. They chew gum, suck on mints, gargle regularly and ask health professionals for help. They frequently feel frustrated.
Others may imagine that they have bad breath. Doctors have a term for this condition. It is called halitophobia or delusional halitosis. No matter how much they are reassured that their breath smells fine, such people are convinced they could knock out a horse with each breath.
Determining the cause behind actual bad breath can be challenging. There are so many contributing factors that it can take Sherlock Holmes-type sleuthing to discover what is really going on.
Food is an obvious source of odor. It’s not just garlic and onions that can cause bad breath. Readers of this column have shared some fascinating stories about milk and dairy products:

“I have a problem with terrible bad breath after eating anything with dairy in it, and also anything with sugar. I have had this problem since my early twenties and am now in my sixties. My husband says it is so bad that he can sometimes smell it from his side of our king-size bed. This is right after brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash before bedtime.
“If I stay away from sugar and dairy, the smell goes away completely after four or five days. It starts again within 30 to 45 minutes of eating the offending foods.”

Another reader shared this:

“I suffer from severe lactose intolerance. Even after taking Lactaid enzyme pills I would have body odor when I ate dairy products. Once I eliminated dairy from my diet, the odor went away.”

Other causes of bad breath may include gum disease, tooth abscess, bacterial overgrowth on the tongue, tonsil troubles, sinusitis, bronchitis, diabetes or liver disease. A specialist should do a complete workup to discover the source of the odor.
Here is an example:

“My 11-year-old daughter had terrible breath. The dentist said that it wasn’t coming from her teeth and referred us to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The ENT said that he suspected that the small sinus cavities on each side of her nose had fungal infections in them. He prescribed a special nose spray to get rid of the infection. Within two days her bad breath was gone. Now whenever her breath starts to get bad we just have her start using the nose spray mixture and it disappears.”

Sometimes bad breath originates in the stomach. Decades ago we spoke with Nobel Prize laureate Barry Marshall, MD. He discovered that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori could cause stomach ulcers. He told us that these germs are behind some cases of hard-to-treat bad breath.
Over the years we have heard from readers who reported success after curing the infection:

“When I read about a blood test for a germ in the stomach that causes bad breath and gastritis, I saw my doctor. He hadn’t heard of this but he gave me the blood test. It turned up positive. Now I am fine, after years of bad breath.”

Diagnosing the cause of bad breath can be challenging. But once the origin is identified halitosis can frequently be remedied.

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  1. Kay

    I read the article and it says to get checked out by a specialist. Which specialist? I’ve been to so many people I just need someone to tell me who exactly can do a full body check and pinpoint the cause of the problem.

    • The People's Pharmacy

      It makes sense to start with the dentist; if that is not productive, the ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist is the next most likely to be helpful.

  2. jitendra

    I’m suffering from bed breath for 12 Years. Some doctors said that I have stomach problems and I’m taken some medicine like metrozole but does not take any effect on my bad breath. After that I visited another doctor they said I have sinus they advised me to spray nasal spray but the problem remain exist.

    I’m requesting to kindly resolve my prolem.

  3. Anonymous
    East Coast

    It seems I have the same problem as the woman who’s had bb since she was in her 20’s and is now in her 60’s. Except I am in my 30’s and the bb just started in the last 6-9 months. The first time I noticed it was when someone close to me said I should brush my teeth and I just had. It has been so bad that anyone sitting next to me in a public/indoor environment, starts commenting on the smell and looking around to see where it’s coming from.

    Honestly, this might sound strange but it smells exactly like my cat’s poop. Almost immediately after I eat anything with dairy or processed sugar the bb comes back. And it also usually takes about 4-5 days to go away (while not eating dairy and processed sugar items). I’m so new at this and I’ve been eating dairy and processed sugar products for 30+ years that I’m not sure how or when I’ll be able to make that complete life change.

    It’s very hard to be around anyone with this kind of bb, but I have to do something. I guess I’m learning that I may have a lactose intolerance. That’s a start. Thank you so much for the thread. I have been searching the internet for months, going to the dentist (who just clumped me into a bb category and gave me a tongue scraper and sent me home-twice!!), and gargling mouthwash containing zinc(which does work for about 30 minutes long in an emergency) like a champ. Good luck to anyone else who may read this. It has been such a relief this week knowing that I am not alone, and that there may be an explanation! I read this post about a week ago and had to come back and write, just in case it can help someone.

  4. LE

    I realise CC left the comment requesting how H.pylori was cured quite some time ago, but for anyone else reading this: A one-week course of two antibiotics plus an acid-suppressing medicine will usually clear the H. pylori infection. This should prevent the return of a duodenal or stomach ulcer that had been caused by this infection.

  5. CC

    this article is very interesting and noted that once the bacteria was found the problem cured, however, the article fails to name the magic drug. Please share with me the name of the drug she took. Thank you.

  6. PD

    Scraping the tongue with a spoon cleans off the white coating. Stopped my bad breath.

  7. CAH

    Halitosis can originate in the throat as well–an unusual but possible cause is a Zenker’s Diverticulum–a pouch in the throat where food collects until it fills, causing coughing, and regurgitation. Appropriate diagnosis can be made by an ENT physician following swallowing studies and symptom evaluation.

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