Beating bad breath

  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • Bad breath affects over 2.5 million people in the UK, and that only includes the people who’ve gone to the doctors about it. All of us get it from time-to-time but for others it can be a big problem.

    A study by the British Dental Health Foundation discovered that 1 in 5 of us think that our partner has bad breath and 42% of us think that a friend or colleague has it.

    But what causes it? Well the smell itself is caused by bacteria on the tongue, but certain things can make it worse.

    We’ve got five common reasons for bad breath as well as top tips on how to beat it from our expert, Leigh Greenwood from the British Dental Health Foundation.

    We’ve also got a bad breath test to find out if you suffer from it. 

    1. Food

    The biggest reason for bad breath is caused by what we eat. Foods like garlic and onions have oils in them that coat your mouth and coffee can make your breath smell too.

    But the oils also get absorbed into your blood, through to the lungs and then the smell is in the air you breathe out too.

    Brushing, flossing and mouthwash will only mask the smell and your breath won’t stop smelling until the oils leave your body.

    If you’re on a diet you might get bad breath because you’re not eating enough.

    – Mint is a good way of freshening your mouth after food so chewing gum
    or brushing your teeth straight after will give the bacteria less time
    to breed (urgh!). Or you could even try chewing sprigs of mint.
    – To get rid of garlic, try chewing parsley. It neutralises some of the
    oils in garlic and that’s why you’ll find it sprinkled on a lot of
    garlic breads and pizzas.
    – Coffee breath can be made a little better by drinking a cup of hot
    water afterwards.

    2. Dry mouth

    When you’re dehydrated or nervous it can make your mouth dry, which
    lowers the amount of saliva you produce. Saliva is a natural mouthwash
    and it removes any food or bacteria. If you’re not producing enough the
    bacteria grows and your breath gets smellier.

    There are medical conditions that can cause a dry mouth too so it might be worth speaking to your doctor or dentist.

    – Drinking water will stop your mouth from being so dry but fruit juices
    and squashes with no added sugar also work just as well.
    – Try eating foods like watermelon and apples which help produce saliva and anything that’s sour.

    3. Smoking

    Tobacco coats your mouth and tongue with bacteria which makes it smell.
    It gets inside your blood stream and lungs and then the air you exhale
    smells too. Stale smoke was also voted the worse smell in the study.
    Quit smoking with our Stop Smoking Clinic

    4. Poor dental routine

    If you don’t brush your teeth twice a day, or don’t floss, food and
    plaque sticks to your teeth and tongue. If you left food in your fridge
    for too long it would start to rot and the same happens inside your

    Plaque rots your teeth and makes them weak and bacteria breeds faster if
    you don’t brush regularly so your tongue will become a haven for

    You have to see a dentist on a regular basis so that your mouth can be
    properly cleaned and if any teeth are rotting they can be taken out so
    they don’t smell. Your dentist can give you advice as well if you have
    bad breath a lot.

    5. Medical reasons

    Apart from dry mouth there are other medical reasons why you might have
    bad breath. Coughs, colds and infections in your airways can all cause
    smelly breath. Diabetes, stomach aches, sickness bugs and problems with
    your liver and kidney can too.

    Some medicines make your breath smell as well.

    If you regularly suffer from bad breath and your dentist says your mouth
    is healthy you can get referred to a doctor or specialist to find out
    what’s causing it. 

    Our expert, Leigh Greenwood from the British Dental Health Foundation has eight top tips on getting rid of bad breath and preventing it from coming back.

    *Brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride
    * Clean your tongue when you brush your teeth to get rid of bacteria
    * Make sure you floss or clean between your teeth with interdental brushes
    * Cut down on how much sugary food or drinks you have
    * Visit the dentist regularly
    * Chew sugar-free gum – it helps produce saliva to stop your mouth drying out
    * Use a mouthwash – some contain antibacterial agents that could kill bacteria
    * Avoid smelly foods like garlic, onions and coffee
    * Don’t smoke or use tobacco.

    Bad breath test

    If you’re worried that you might have bad breath, try the ‘lick and
    sniff’ test to discover whether or not you’re suffering with it. It
    doesn’t sound very nice but it’s easy to do and works better than
    breathing into your hand. Bear in mind though that if you’re wearing
    perfume it might not be as accurate.

    1. Lick the inside of your wrist (or the back of your hand if you’ve got perfume on)
    2. Leave it for 5 seconds and then sniff
    3. If it doesn’t smell very nice then chances are neither does your breath!