What is Bad Breath?

Frequently asked questions about halitosis and related conditions

The Cause of Bad Breath: When Bacteria Causes a Stink


The same types of bacteria cause both halitosis and gum disease. An increase in harmful oral bacteria, even in otherwise healthy mouths, is by far the most common cause of this persistent and chronic condition.

Bad breath bacteria are found in colonies called "biofilms" below and around the gums, on the tongue, the back of the throat and on tonsils where they are difficult to control. For example, over the counter mouth rinses do not penetrate these bacterial biofilms so they do not predictably control odours.

Where do these odours come from? The bad breath bacteria digest and break down proteins, producing unpleasant-smelling chemicals called ‘volatile sulphur compounds’ (VSCs). These VSCs dissolve in saliva and coat nasal passages, affecting the ability to taste and smell effectively - and even impacting overall health, potentially severely.

Certain VSCs (hydrogen sulfide, di-methyl sulfide and mercaptans) are extremely toxic, irritate mucous membranes and open the spaces between mucosal cells so bacteria can penetrate deeper into tissues. It is not just a cosmetic concern.

The following conditions may also contribute to bad breath problems:

  • stress
  • hunger
  • certain foods
  • systemic diseases and conditions
  • alcohol, tobacco and some medications
  • dental diseases and conditions
  • hormonal changes and metabolic disorders

What is Dry Mouth?


Oral dryness can be the result of insufficient production of saliva.  More often, we find that the dry and pasty feeling described by our clients is a response of the tongue and tissues of the mouth to an increased VSC production.  These VSCs can dissolve in saliva and coat the taste buds, thereby causing significant and uncomfortable sensory changes. Once the oral bacteria are reduced and their by-products eliminated, the sensation disappears and there is no longer a complaint of oral dryness.

Is all bad breath the same?


The odour of the breath depends on the type of VSCs that the bacteria produce.  For example, hydrogen sulphide smells like stale cooked eggs while methyl mercaptan has a penetrating pungent odour.  Both of these gases are usually present in bad breath along with other compounds also produced by the bacteria.  The blending of all gaseous compounds is what determines the kind of bad breath that is present at any given time.  In addition, many physical and medical conditions can add their own distinctive odours to the mix.

Why don't other treatments work for me?


There are over 80 individual strains of bad breath bacteria among the 500 or more bacteria types that naturally live in the mouth. First we need to identify the location of the odours and the bacteria causing the odours‎ with microbial sampling. Our research has enabled us to create specific antibiotic rinses to target these specific types of odour-causing bacteria. For successful treatment, it's very important to know which bacteria are causing the problem. It is very much like a chronic infection which a general-purpose formulation may or may not treat successfully. That's why all other available bad breath treatments work well for a few people, and for other people some of the time, but may not help you at all.


I think I have bad breath, but I'm not sure.  Do I have to have the full assessment and treatment to find out?


OraVital® Certified Clinics offer consultations with an experienced clinician who can test your oral bacteria,​ locate where the odours are coming from and then help you decide whether or not your problem requires treatment.  If your test results indicate any oral health problems, we will tell you that and recommend further testing and/or treatment.  If your symptoms aren't that serious, we will tell you that too.  In either case we will give you the information you need to choose the right solution for your individual problem, without any obligation or pressure to buy anything you don't want or need.  Click here for more details about the OraVital System.

My breath problem is really bad.  I've tried everything and nothing works.  What makes you so sure you can help me?


The Fresh Breath Clinic (1993-2008) and OraVital Certified Clinics (2008-present day) have successfully treated many thousands of people with chronic bad breath and related problems.  OraVital Certified healthcare professionals use industry-leading, proprietary scientific methods which include microbial site-specific and/or whole-mouth DNA-level testing, antibiotic rinses targeting the bacteria causing your odours and technology to determine the exact cause of each individual problem.  We have the tools, experience and expertise to help you beat your problem.  If you are serious about wanting to live without bad breath, we have what it takes to help!

For the past few months I have been getting lumps in the pockets of my tonsils.  They get sore and make my breath smell bad.  When I breathe through my nose, I can smell this myself.  After a few weeks the lumps get big enough to fall out.  It's ok for a few more weeks until the problem starts again.  Could I have a bacterial infection of some sort?


You most likely have tonsilloliths.  These cauliflower-shaped lumps are a combination of bacteria, food debris, dead cells and mucus.  This material accumulates in small pockets in the tonsils and eventually the action of the throat muscles forces some of it out.  The odour from the tonsilloliths is unpleasant.

We have had considerable success in treating tonsilloliths with antibacterial rinses such as chlorhexidine and/or antibiotic rinses.  The number of lumps present, the size and the frequency that they appear can all be reduced dramatically but it is rare that we can remove them completely.  Many of our clients tell us that they may experience one or two very small lumps once every 4 to 6 months.

Although surgical procedures are not recommended except when the tonsil appears enlarged, inflamed and infected, a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of tonsils) is the most effective way to prevent the formation of tonsilloliths.  Your doctor or medical specialist can advise you if a tonsillectomy should be considered.


Is there an OraVital Clinic in my area?


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