What is halitosis?

Have you noticed a bad smell and/or taste in your mouth, or has a friend or partner told you that you have bad breath?

If you identify with these situations, it is likely that you have a problem known as halitosis which may be related to diseases of the oral cavity and other systemic diseases.

What is halitosis?

The bad breath or halitosis is defined as the set of unpleasant odours emitted from the mouth. The term comes from the Latin "halitus". (exhaled air) and from Greek "osis" (pathological disorder), and affects approximately 30% of the population.

Halitosis has an impact on a person's quality of life. When they become aware of bad breath, they change their body language and develop defensive behaviours such as covering their mouth with their hand, a greater distance when speaking, or avoiding enclosed spaces.

Bad breath causes anxiety, lowers self-esteem and interferes with intimate relationships - in other words, it diminishes the sufferer's happiness.


As dentists, we distinguish between two types of halitosis: those that come from the mouth and those that do not. In most cases, bad breath has its origin in the mouth, up to 90%. The rest are due to diseases of the digestive system, respiratory system or liver or kidney diseases.

Inside the mouth, there are several reasons why halitosis can occur:

  • Poor hygiene: is the most obvious, but it is worth remembering that by reinforcing oral hygiene, we can help to combat and minimise the effect of halitosis, although it is not always enough.
  • Periodontal disease: is a bacterial disease that affects the gum, increasing the natural space between the root of the tooth and the gum, and allowing many more bacteria to enter than in a healthy mouth, which can lead to unpleasant odours. Periodontal disease is very important and can have many consequences throughout the body. You can learn more about this subject by consulting this and this link (LINK TO BLOG ARTICLES).
  • Abscesses: Dental infections sometimes release pus, which tastes bitter to us, and can make our breath smell.
  • Xerostomia: also called dry mouth (LINK TO ARTICLE) is a disorder in which there is less saliva than normal, as the defences decrease and the gums dry out, the sensation of bad breath can also increase. 


In some cases halitosis is suspected by oneself or a trusted person.

The help of a dental professional can contribute to the diagnosis. The examination of a patient with halitosis involves fundamental aspects such as general health, lifestyle (habits and customs), oral situation and hygiene. 

Currently, there are specific tests to measure CVS as mentioned above, as well as laboratory tests such as the BANA or the salivary incubation test.


When we detect a very obvious pathology that could be to blame for bad breath, such as an ulcer, infection, or a very large cavity that retains dirt, the first thing we will do is treat the cause.

In other cases, however, treatment of oral halitosis will be aimed at reducing the number of odour-producing bacteria deposited on the dorsum of the tongue and gums. Antimicrobial agents used in treatment include the following chlorhexidine at the low concentration of 0.0.5%, the cetylpyridinium chloride and the zinc lactate.

Other habits you can follow to keep your breath fresh include proper oral hygiene, not eating foods with strong odours such as spices, garlic or onions and drinks such as coffee and alcohol, quitting smoking and drinking plenty of water to maintain good hydration.

Visit your dentist regularly to check the health of your gums and teeth. Treatment protocols include professional teeth cleaning and oral hygiene instructions ranging from proper brushing and interproximal cleaning to thorough tongue cleaning.

If you still have any questions, you can ask them below in the comments section.

Dr. Francisco Sánchez-Alcaraz Martínez, dentist at Vélez&Lozano.