innerbody

Last Updated: October 25, 2017

Halitosis - Bad Breath

Overview

Halitosis is an offensive odor also known as bad breath. This common problem affects approximately one-third of the population.

In 90% of individuals with halitosis, the underlying problem lies within the mouth and the condition is termed intraoral halitosis. Intraoral halitosis is primarily caused by oral bacteria, which produce foul smelling gases called volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs).

The other 10% of cases are classified as extraoral halitosis because the underlying problem is outside of the mouth. Uncontrolled medical diseases or adverse effects of medications are the most common causes of extraoral halitosis.

Causes

human mouth

Intraoral halitosis is frequently caused by the following conditions:

Extraoral halitosis is commonly caused by the following disorders:

Symptoms

The symptoms of halitosis vary among individuals, and the extent of the condition ranges from mild to severe. Interestingly, many people with bad breath are completely unaware of their problem.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To evaluate halitosis, a clinician will subjectively judge a patient’s breath odor. This assessment, called an organoleptic measurement, involves sniffing the patient’s breath as it is exhaled and subjectively rating the severity of the odor.

Gas chromatography (GC) is a test that specifically measures exhaled VSCs, the most common cause of halitosis.

Sinuses shown in a lateral view

When genuine halitosis is detected, patients typically require an examination by a dentist as well as a physician to determine whether the odor is caused by an oral problem, or underlying medical condition, or both. Sometimes, if tonsillitis or sinusitis is suspected, an ear nose and throat specialist is indicated.

Treatment is directed at correcting the underlying causes of halitosis. The most effective interventions are as follows:

Prevention

Most cases of halitosis are prevented with the practice of good oral hygiene, including teeth brushing, flossing, tongue cleaning, and abstinence from smoking. A dental examination and professional cleaning are recommended once or twice each year. Additionally, individuals should obtain proper medical care and treatment for any underlying diseases.

Sources

Related Topics

Carla Hightower, MD

Dr. Hightower is an experienced physician who studied medicine at Northwestern University, where she also earned an MBA. As the founder of Living Health Works, she offers health coaching to individuals, private groups and corporations.