Bad breath: 8 things it can reveal about your health

Do you feel like you have bad breath or has someone around you told you about it? Beyond the discomfort it causes, halitosis can also be a sign of a more serious illness. 


  • 1 – A problem with a dental prosthesis
  • 2 – A sinus infection
  • 3 – Your medications involved
  • 4 – Inflammation of the gums
  • 5 – The presence of a cavity
  • 6 – Gastric reflux
  • 7 – Sleep apnea
  • 8 – The fault is your food

Having bad breath can be extremely debilitating. More than 9 out of 10 French people admit that they would refuse a second date if their suitor “pushes back the bottleneck”

Be careful, smelly breaths are actually quite common. It is estimated that between a quarter and a half of the French population has occasional or chronic halitosis.

If you want fresh breath, it is important to take care of your oral hygiene. In 85 to 90% of cases, bad odors are of oral origin. Indeed, the mouth is naturally home to bacteria that feed on protein. When they degrade them, they release foul-smelling volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). It is therefore important to take care not to have food debris stuck between the teeth whether they are real… or false.

A problem with a dental prosthesis

Indeed, these annoying unsavory scents can come from dental prostheses. Just like with real teeth, improperly cleaned dentures can promote bad breath by becoming a playground for bacteria.

What to do to avoid bad breath with removable dentures?

“It is important to clean your dental appliance thoroughly morning and evening using a brush. This cleaning can be completed by immersing the prosthesis in an antiseptic solution once a week”, explains Dr. Christophe Lequart, dental surgeon and national spokesperson for the UFSBD (French Union for Oral Health).

It is important to follow these three simple steps: soak, brush and rinse. Depending on the dentures worn the dentist may also recommend not to wear them at night.

A sinus infection

Good dental hygiene requires thorough brushing. It is necessary to clean the teeth starting with the most remote and hidden places… that is to say between the teeth. To reach this place where food debris and bacteria hide, you have to rely on dental floss and/or interdental brushes. In addition, when brushing, one should also not forget the tongue in case of halitosis. Indeed, 60% of bacteria in the oral cavity have chosen it as their home, with a particular taste for its folds, called villi. According to Health Insurance, the language is responsible for 41%cases of bad breath of oral origin.

If you follow these good hygiene practices to the letter… and the bad breath persists, then a sinus infection could be the reason for the unpleasant odors escaping from your mouth.

For example, if you have permanent casts on the back of your throat, you may have allergic rhinitis. These discharges are an excellent food for bacteria, which, as they proliferate, release many nauseous volatile compounds.

The solution to fight against the bad smell

To solve the problem of bad breath, it is therefore important to treat this sinus infection first. To do this, you must consult your doctor or an ENT specialist. The practitioner will propose the treatment adapted to the disorder.

Your medications involved

The hygiene and health of people with unpleasant breath are not always in question. External elements can also be the cause. More than 400 drugs have a direct effect on bad breath because they dry out the oral cavity, modify the flow of saliva and act on the oral flora.

What drug treatments cause halitosis?

Drug-induced bad breath can affect the elderly on “long” treatments, asthmatics and allergic patients, patients on tranquilizers, neuroleptics, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or treatment for hypertension.

What to do?

Don’t panic if your medication causes halitosis. It disappears after discontinuation of drug treatment. And, in case of discomfort, it is advisable to consult and talk to your doctor who may possibly substitute one drug for another.

Inflammation of the gums

If people around you notice that your breath hasn’t smelled like flowers for the past few days, the origin of this bad smell could be an inflammation of the gums. This is caused by bacteria. Signs of this disorder are red, swollen gums that can bleed easily.


Dr. Christophe Lequart recalls “Bad breath is due to the presence of bacteria which proliferate, stagnate in the oral cavity and give off nauseous volatile compounds”. He adds “If gingivitis is not treated, it can progress to the disease periodontal disease, with the destruction of the supporting bone of the teeth causing loosening of the teeth.”

How to prevent halitosis?

Good oral hygiene is again the key to good breath. In addition, it is recommended to take at least one annual visit to your dentist.

The presence of a caries

In some cases, a cavity is not only a source of pain. It can also cause persistent bad breath.


Halitosis is in 85% of cases the consequence of poor hygiene or an oral problem. “Neglected cavities are reservoirs for bacteria, and can be associated with gingivitis and sometimes abscesses. Accumulating bacteria produce foul-smelling volatile sulfur compounds,” says Dr. Lequart.

What to do?

It is important to go to your dentist at least once a year for a check-up and to brush your teeth at least twice a day, following the recommended brushing gestures. In case of pain, or swelling, do not wait to seek treatment.

gastric reflux

People who suffer from gastric reflux can also have unpleasant breath. Indeed, certain foods during digestion can rise and disturb the breath. It is also possible that this disorder is accentuated by excessive consumption of tobacco and/or alcohol.

How gastric reflux affects the breath?

“The acid contained in the stomach rises along the digestive tract, generally when lying down, to the oral cavity. It is this acidity that will promote bad breath by stripping the mucous membrane, the gums, the tongue, creating the conditions for the proliferation of bacteria” specifies dental surgeon Dr Christophe Lequart.

sleep apnea

Sleep apnea, called obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome (OSAS), is manifested by repeated pauses or reduction in the patient’s breathing while sleeping. Breathing pauses can last 10 to 30 seconds or more, and occur up to a hundred times a night.

This disorder, which affects 4% of French people, can promote the development of bad breath.


“Sleep apnea leads to greater breathing through the mouth and dry mouth. As the oral cavity dries up, the bacteria responsible for the nauseous volatile compounds proliferate” explains the practitioner.

What to do?

Patients are advised to consult a specialist to treat snoring and sleep apnea.

Blame it on your food

Beware of high protein diets. They often lead to halitosis. As there is no intake of sugars or fats, the body – placed in hypoglycemia – then draws “its fuel” from its fat reserves. Converted into energy without the need for insulin, they produce waste, responsible for the smell of acetone.

Also, some foods like garlic, onion, and cabbage are known to cause bad breath. The odors they cause to pass from the bloodstream to the lungs… then exhaled. For example, if you eat garlic, its odor may be smelled on your breath by those around you for 2 or 3 hours after consumption, when it will have left your mouth or stomach a long time ago. Oral hygiene cannot combat these odors.

In addition, bad habits – such as tobacco or excessive alcoholic beverages – can also promote halitosis.