How to beat bad breath

It happens to most of us at some point, and it’s embarrassing. What causes bad breath and how can you get rid of it?

Some studies estimate as many as one in four people have bad breath.

It may be just an occasional mild case of bad odour or as extreme as halitosis – the more serious end of the bad breath scale.

“Bad breath is most often caused by natural bacteria in the mouth. When they break down proteins in the food we eat, they produce smelly sulphur gases,” says Dr Peter Chuang, of the Australian Dental Association.   

Signs of halitosis can include:

  • A white or yellowish coating on the tongue
  • A dry mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • A feeling you need to clean your throat a lot
  • A bitter metallic taste in the mouth

Here are some of the leading causes of bad breath, and what to do about them:

Poor brushing and flossing habits

Brush and floss at least twice a day after meals and take a toothbrush to work so you can brush after lunch. Brush your tongue, too.

“Patches of white or yellow are plaque trapped in the grooves. Use a tongue scraper to remove plaque so your tongue is an even pink colour,” says Dr Chuang.

Cigarettes and alcohol

Cigarettes lead to bad breath, as does drinking booze.

Alcohol is dehydrating so can lead to a dry mouth and a lack of saliva to wash away trapped food and bacteria that lead to smelly breath.

“Sip on water whenever you feel your mouth is dry. You can also buy oral hydration products to counter dry mouth,” says Dr Chuang.


Some anti-depressants and blood pressure medications also reduce saliva flow.

Speak to your doctor if you experience dry mouth symptoms to see whether you can try alternative medications.


If stomach acid refluxes up into the throat, it can cause a bad odour.

Certain foods can trigger reflux, for example fatty foods, coffee, fizzy drinks and spicy foods.

Antacid liquids or tablets can relieve reflux symptoms.

Mouth breathing

Mouth breathers suffer dry mouth.

People with blocked noses can also end up breathing through their mouth and have dry mouth.

If you have congestion and sinus issues, wake up with bad breath, it will be due to mouth breathing.

Dr Luke Cronin joined the House of Wellness TV team to talk about bad breath, what it says about your health and how to treat it – see what he had to say: