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:
Further reading and references
Kapoor U, Sharma G, Juneja M, et al; Halitosis: Current concepts on etiology, diagnosis and management. Eur J Dent. 2016 Apr-Jun10(2):292-300. doi: 10.4103/1305-7456.178294.
Halitosis; NICE CKS, November 2014 (UK access only)
Bollen CM, Beikler T; Halitosis: the multidisciplinary approach. Int J Oral Sci. 2012 Jun4(2):55-63.
Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, et al; Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Jun 17(6):CD002281. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002281.pub3.
Poklepovic T, Worthington HV, Johnson TM, et al; Interdental brushing for the prevention and control of periodontal diseases and dental caries in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 18(12):CD009857. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009857.pub2.
Kuo YW, Yen M, Fetzer S, et al; Toothbrushing versus toothbrushing plus tongue cleaning in reducing halitosis and tongue coating: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nurs Res. 2013 Nov-Dec62(6):422-9. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3182a53b3a.
Porter SR, Scully C; Oral malodour (halitosis). BMJ. 2006 Sep 23333(7569):632-5.
Fedorowicz Z, Aljufairi H, Nasser M, et al; Mouthrinses for the treatment of halitosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8(4):CD006701.
Phillips IR, Shephard EA; Trimethylaminuria, University of Washington, 2007 (updated 2011)
Reidy JT, McHugh EE, Stassen LF; A review of the role of alcohol in the pathogenesis of oral cancer and the link between alcohol-containing mouthrinses and oral cancer. J Ir Dent Assoc. 2011 Aug-Sep57(4):200-2.
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