7 Alarming Causes of Bad Breath

Morning breath, coffee breath, garlic breath, poor hygiene – there are a lot of causes for bad breath. Most causes aren’t really serious, but there are some diseases that cause bad breath.

Before blood testing and an understanding of germs, doctors used to regularly sniff their patients’ breath for a quick, often accurate diagnosis of some very serious diseases. Veterinarians frequently use the sniff test when checking out an animal.

Look for bad breath and certain symptoms, as in number 4, so your doctor can help you. If you notice number 6’s smell, call 911. So, what should you smell for? We’ll discuss that, too.

1. Gum Disease

Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque on teeth. Bacteria living in the plaque form toxins that irritate the gums. If gum disease continues, it can damage gums and jawbone. You can get bad breath as a result of the infection.

As the bacteria thrive, they can enter your blood stream and end up in your heart and cause heart disease.
Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental care can stop or prevent gum disease.

2. Dry Mouth

Dry mouth has many causes but all result in bad breath. You need saliva to digest food, protect your teeth, and help you swallow. If something stops saliva, you may have a serious disease. Viral infections from flu to Epstein-Barr to HIV can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth can be a result of both benign and malignant tumors. It can also be a sign of Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease.

If you have dry mouth, you may want to talk to your doctor.

3. Chronic Sinus Infections

Most people are familiar with sinus infections. Sometimes, your sinus infection can become chronic and you don’t realize that you even have one. If you have bad breath, along with decreased sense of smell and taste, aching teeth and jaws, and trouble breathing, talk to your doctor.

Chronic sinus infections are caused by certain diseases, allergies, hay fever, environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke, asthma, and abnormal nasal passages. Treatment can range from antibiotics to eliminating allergens/pollutants to surgery.

4. Lung Diseases

Bad breath can be caused by lung infections or conditions. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, pulmonary abscess, tuberculosis, and emphysema. Most of these have additional symptoms, including having trouble breathing. A pulmonary abscess can occur after pneumonia, surgery, or from accidently getting food or liquid in your lungs. Tell your doctor if you have had one of these events.

All these conditions are potentially fatal, so checking with your doctor if you have trouble breathing, bad breath, coughing, fever and chest pain may save your life.

5. Chronic Acid Reflux

Heartburn happens – spicy food, eating too much, and even cinnamon and tomatoes can cause acid from your stomach to creep into your throat. Chronic acid reflux is heart burn that happens regularly for months. Acid and partially digested food smells awful and makes your breath smell. This condition can have serious causes and effects on your health.

Your esophagus and be damaged and develop ulcers and eventually esophageal cancer. You risk tooth decay. Chronic acid reflux may also be a symptom of a hiatal hernia.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes is caused by under production of insulin. Insulin regulates how fat use and storage. All three types of diabetes are very serious and can be fatal. Bad breath has two causes in diabetics. Your body gets rid of excess glucose through frequent urination, hence dry mouth.

High blood sugar over time causes life-threatening ketoacidosis. One of the most noticeable symptoms is the smell of nail polish remover. If you notice this along with nausea, vomiting, and confusion, get help immediately.

7. Liver or Kidney Problems

Your liver filter bloods, detoxify chemicals, and metabolize drugs. Kidneys also filter the blood and remove waste products and send them to the bladder. These are very easily abused organs and suffer a wide variety of diseases. Some of them even have a specific odor.

Heavy drinking, excessive medication or drug use, obesity, bacterial infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes can cause liver and kidney damage and lead to failure. Oddly, smoking is the leading cause of kidney cancer!


Bad breath is a look into your body. Sometimes, it’s a look at a previous meal and sometimes it is a hint that you are very sick! If good dental hygiene doesn’t make the smell go away or if you smell any of the following odors, you should contact your doctor.

• Cheese – sinus infection
• Fruit – diabetes
• Finger nail polish remover – ketoacidosis
• Fish – kidney disease
• Acid – asthma or cystic fibrosis
• Ammonia – kidney problems
• Sweet and musty – liver cirrhosis
• Fecal – bowel obstruction

Hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of stinky breath! Your nose may be the first diagnostic tool in a doctor’s medical bag.