Bad breath is embarrassing. So some of us suck on mints. Or we gargle with mouthwash before getting up and personal with someone.
But foul breath can be more than a social problem. It could be telling you that you have a serious health problem. Especially if it is a persistent problem.
Bad breath is often caused by eating pungent foods. Garlic is the most famous culprit. But when the condition is chronic it is sometimes caused by tooth and gum problems.
And in some people it is a sign of other, more serious illnesses…
Heart disease: Having bad breath caused by gum problems can be an early sign of heart disease, according to a study by the International & American Association for Dental Research. The same bacteria that causes gingivitis can also attack the lining of your heart.1
Gum inflammation allows bacteria to penetrate the bloodstream. It then can settle in the heart. One of the bacteria commonly associated with gingivitis is called streptococcus sanguinis. It’s a major cause of heart disease.2
Diabetes: Poorly managed diabetes can lead to gum disease and bad breath. Diabetes-caused bad breath has a characteristic fruity, sweet smell.
It can signal a serious diabetes complication called ketoacidosis. When the body doesn’t have enough insulin, it starts burning fatty acids for energy. This leads to an excess of ketones in the blood. Left unchecked, it can lead to a diabetic coma.3
Kidney failure: Breath that smells fishy or like ammonia can be a symptom of malfunctioning kidneys. The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins and excess minerals from the blood.
When kidneys aren’t working properly, these end up in the bloodstream. This affects just about every part of the body, including the mouth. This causes bad breath Some people with failing kidneys report a metallic taste in their mouth.4
Liver disease: Similar to kidney disease, a failing liver allows toxins to flow throughout the body. They build in the bloodstream, especially ammonia. This causes foul-smelling breath.
Stomach cancer: In a study published in the journal Gut, researchers tested breath samples from 484 people with questionable breath. More than 20% had stomach cancer.5
The researchers suggested that bad breath could be used as a screening method to help detect stomach cancer early.
Lung cancer: It causes a distinctive bad metallic or chemical odor. Other lung illnesses, such as pneumonia or asthma, can also cause bad breath.6
Stomach ulcers: The bacterium that causes ulcers is H. pylori. It causes bad breath even before ulcers set in.
If you think your bad breath could be signaling of any of these problems, you should see your doctor promptly.
Take the Bad Breath Test
It’s difficult for a person to tell if their own breath is bad. You’re acclimated to your own breath. So you can’t tell if it is off.
You can ask someone else to check your breath. Or you can try this three-step test:
- Make sure your wrist is clean and doesn’t smell like perfume, cologne, or sweat.
- Lick your wrist. Wait 10 seconds.
- Smell where you licked your wrist. If it smells bad, then your breath is bad. If you smell nothing, your breath is fine.
And one last thing… Breath mints don’t work. They actually can make your breath worse, according to research from the American Chemical Society.
The minty fresh scent might may mask the underlying odor for a short time. But the sugar in the mints feeds stinky bacteria in your mouth. When the mint is gone, your bad breath comes back with a vengeance.7