Halitosis is the medical name for bad breath, when your breath has a foul odour to it. This is common and usually the odour comes from the mouth. It can be normal after eating strong-smelling foods or after drinking alcohol. It can also occur if you smoke, on waking up in the morning, or if you have a period of fasting or cutting out carbohydrates. You get bad breath on a morning due to less saliva being produced overnight so any food particles stay in the mouth and are broken down, causing a smell.
Bad breath can also be caused by a health issue. This may relate to a problem in the mouth – with the teeth, tongue or gums, such as gum disease. It may be a non-oral issue – from the throat, such as tonsillitis or an abscess, lung disease or infection, or problems with the digestive tract, such as acid reflux.
This can be treated appropriately at the pharmacy with a range of products, depending on the likely cause. Maintaining good oral hygiene is your first port of call in treating bad breath. But a foul odour can originate further down the digestive tract. Consider any issues relating to diet, such as an incomplete breakdown of food in the gut or an imbalance of gut flora (bacteria in the gut that help us to digest our food).
The best way to prevent bad breath is through good oral hygiene, which includes brushing your teeth morning and night for at least two minutes, and using floss or inter-dental picks. It also helps to use a mouthwash, and brushing your tongue with a gentle toothbrush that has a specific tongue cleaner on the back. If you wear dentures, make sure they're cleaned properly and regularly. Giving up smoking will help with bad breath.
You should book a dentist appointment if you have tried the above oral hygiene advice for two weeks and your symptoms are either not improving or severe. If you think your bad breath is due to one of the health issues discussed above then you can discuss this with a pharmacist or, if severe, then with your doctor. The doctor will ask you about your medical history, your symptoms, how severe they are and how long you’ve had them for. They will also ask about any medication you are currently taking and your current oral hygiene routine. They may look in your mouth or up your nose. Following assessment they may order investigations, such as blood tests, or suggest treatments or suggest that you see a dentist or another specialist.