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What is Halitosis?

By S. Scolari
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Halitosis is the medical term for offensive breath. Halitosis is usually caused by tooth decay, gum problems, smoking, or mild digestive upsets. It can also be a sign of uremia, cirrhosis of the liver, or lung or sinus infections.

Someone who as minty acetone-like breath may be a sign of diabetes. For people on the Atkins diet, a sweetish breath smell may mean that they have achieved ketosis, a state of fat-burning in the body. In this case, the halitosis is considered to be desirable since it means the body is metabolizing fat instead of carbohydrates. According to Dr. Atkins, it normally takes about three days on the Induction phase of his diet to achieve ketosis. Induction is the initial phase of the diet and the most carbohydrate-restricted. Only a limited number of carbs low on the glycemic index are permitted at this time.

Successful treatment depends upon removing the underlying cause. Mouthwashes and toothpastes may mask halitosis but do not usually remove it. In severe or persistent cases, a physician should be consulted.

Poor oral hygiene can also contribute to bad breath. Plaque, a sticky substance which builds up on the teeth, may also be a cause. Daily flossing, which removes plaque, is strongly suggested for everyone, as is proper brushing. Teeth should be brushed after every meal and flossed at least once a day.

Electric toothbrushes, which can vibrate hundreds of times a minute, are often more effective in controlling plaque and cleaning the teeth than traditional toothbrushes. The size of the brush head is also important. Models with small, round brushes may be more effective at reaching all parts of the mouth. For maximum effectiveness, brush for a minimum of two minutes each time. This is the amount of time dentists believe is necessary to thoroughly clean the teeth.

Halitosis can also result from sulphur compounds forming on the tongue. For this reason, some people commonly clean their tongues with a small plastic device called a tongue scraper or tongue cleaner. For best results, stick out your tongue and scrape from back to front.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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