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reviewed 9/18/2018

Bad breath: True or false?

Everyone gets bad breath now and then. But for some people, it's a chronic problem that can cause discomfort for themselves and others. Find out how much you know about this common problem—also called halitosis.

True or false: Bad breath usually occurs because you aren't taking good care of your mouth and teeth.

True. Poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of stinky breath. The odor comes from decaying food particles in your mouth, as well as bacteria and their waste. Brushing and flossing at least twice a day can help lessen the odor.

True or false: If you think you have bad breath but you really don't, you may be halitophobic.

True. Millions of people worry about having horrible breath when actually their breath is fine. On the other hand, millions of people with truly bad breath are unaware they have it.

True or false: Mints, rinses and chewing gum can get rid of chronic bad breath.

False. Breath mints, mouthwashes and breath-freshening gum can cover up bad breath only for a short time—and only if the odor is coming from what you just ate. Chronic bad breath can be a sign of bad oral hygiene, gum disease, plaque or other conditions that need medical treatment.

True or false: In addition to cleaning your teeth, you should also brush your tongue to help keep bad breath at bay.

True. A frequent cause of bad breath is sinus drainage. Using a tongue brush or scraper can be an effective way of cleaning out the bacteria-rich mucus that post-nasal drip can leave on the middle and back of the tongue.

True or false: Saliva can wash away bad breath.

True. At least, saliva can wash away bits of food and bacteria, which are the top causes of bad breath. Your salivary glands don't produce much saliva while you're sleeping, though, which leads to a buildup of bacteria overnight. That's one of the causes behind "morning breath."

You can help control bad breath by visiting your dentist regularly. A professional cleaning of the plaque and bacteria on your teeth may be all that's needed. If your dentist can't find a reason for the odor, he or she might refer you to your doctor for a more thorough examination.

How to handle bad breath

Sources: Academy of General Dentistry; American Dental Association

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