Bad Breath (Halitosis) - Diagnosis

How can I tell if I have bad breath?

A main problem with bad breath (halitosis) is that often the only person not to notice it is the person affected. (You become used to your own smell and do not tend to notice your own bad breath.) Often, the only way to know about it is if a person comments on it. However, most people are too polite to comment on another person's bad breath. You may have to rely on a family member or a close friend to be honest and tell you if you have bad breath.

Perhaps you could ask your dentist next time you have a check-up. A dentist will normally be able to say if you have bad breath. Gum disease is a common cause of bad breath and a dentist will be able to advise on treatment if you have gum disease.

Some people suggest a simple test which you can do yourself to detect bad breath. Lick the inside of your wrist. Wait a few seconds for the saliva to dry. Then smell the licked part of the wrist. If you detect an unpleasant smell, you are likely to have bad breath.

When to seek further help

If you have done everything you can in terms of the oral hygiene measures discussed in this leaflet and still have bad breath then see a doctor or dentist.

Who should I consult about bad breath?

You can see either a doctor or a dentist. Usually a dentist would be the first port of call, as they can do a thorough check of your teeth and gums, which are the most common source of the problem. If the dentist can't find a cause in your mouth, he or she may suggest you consult a doctor.

Will I need any investigations?

For most people this won't be necessary. You would have an examination of your mouth by your dentist. In some cases the dentist may suggest an X-ray to look further at your teeth. Your doctor may ask about other symptoms and examine you to look for other causes if the dentist cannot find a cause. If this is the case, you may need some tests to assess if you have a less common cause of bad breath. This might include:

  • Blood tests.
  • An examination of the inside of your nose with a tube (nasoendoscopy).
  • An examination of your gullet and stomach (gastroscopy).
  • A breath, blood or stool test for the germ Helicobacter pylori, which sometimes is a cause.

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Author:
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
4892 (v43)
Last Checked:
06 July 2017
Next Review:
05 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.