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Bad breath

Brushing teeth.

When you open your mouth to talk, you probably want your friends to think about what you’re saying — and not about what you ate for lunch. But certain strong-smelling foods like onions and garlic can cause bad breath. So can smoking. And so can bacteria that grow on bits of food that stay in your mouth if you don’t brush them out. Lots of people have bad breath at some point, and there’s even a medical name for it: halitosis (say: hal-lih-TOH-suhss). Not to worry though! There are steps you can take to keep smelling fresh.

Tips for preventing bad breath:

  • Brush your teeth (and tongue!) for at least two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, especially after meals.
  • Ask your dentist how to floss correctly. Flossing can remove tiny bits of food that can rot and smell bad.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year. He or she will help keep your teeth and your mouth healthy.
  • Eat smart. Avoid foods and drinks that can leave behind strong smells, like cabbage, garlic, raw onions, and coffee. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t limit too much. Not eating enough or cutting out certain foods (such as carbohydrates) can cause bad breath.
  • Don’t smoke! You’ll smell sweeter — and be lots healthier. Check out more reasons not to smoke.

If your bad breath doesn’t go away, it could be a sign of a medical problem, such as a sinus infection or gingivitis (a gum disease).

Be sure to talk to your dentist, doctor, or nurse if your bad breath sticks around. You may feel a little funny talking about it, but it’s a very common problem and you can get help.


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.