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Bad Breath

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a common problem that can affect anyone of any age. Most people have short periods of bad breath at some point, and it is estimated that up to 50% of people have persistent bad breath.

What causes bad breath?

Bad breath can have several causes:

  • In most cases, bad breath is caused by bacteria in the mouth breaking down bits of food.
  • Persistent bad breath is often a sign of gum disease.
  • Eating strongly flavoured foods, such as onions and garlic, can cause your breath to smell unpleasant.
  • Smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol can also cause bad breath.
  • Occasionally, bad breath is the result of an infection or illness, or taking some kinds of medication.

See Bad breath – causes for more information.

Treating bad breath

Good oral hygiene is usually enough to prevent and treat bad breath. See Bad breath – treatment and Bad breath – prevention for more information.

Your dentist can advise you on how to improve your oral health and can refer you for further investigation if they think there may be another cause for your bad breath.

How to find out if you have bad breath

It can be difficult to know if you have bad breath. Other people usually notice it first, and they may find it difficult to tell you. If you are worried that you have bad breath, you could ask a close friend or family member to tell you honestly whether they think you have.

A simple test you can do yourself is to lick the inside of your wrist and wait for the saliva to dry. If the area you licked smells unpleasant, it is likely that your breath does too.


Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and others are good for you.

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