No matter how it happens, having bad breath is embarrassing. And if it’s chronic, chances are you’ll need more than a mint or mouthwash to get rid of it.

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be caused by something as simple as an affinity for garlic or onions, or it could be a sign of something more serious.

Bottom line: If you have halitosis, it’s important to visit your general dentist immediately to get answers.

The five most common causes of halitosis include:

  1. Foods and medication – The foods you eat and medications you take affect your breath. Spicy and potent foods are obvious culprits, but other foods may also prove unpleasant for your breath.
  2. Dry mouth – Also known as Xerostomia, dry mouth is caused by a decrease in saliva, which is essential to clean bacteria out of the mouth. Dry mouth can be caused by prescription drugs, as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
  3. Poor oral hygiene – If you do not brush and floss properly, bacteria and decaying food particles in the mouth can lead to bad breath.
  4. Tobacco – Using tobacco products, especially smoking cigarettes, makes your breath stink and should be avoided.
  5. Medical problems – Halitosis may be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as a sinus or respiratory infection, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, or a liver or kidney problem.

To treat halitosis, try these five important tips:

  1. Regular dental checkups – See your general dentist for a cleaning and checkup every six months to remove plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth. Plaque is essentially bacteria in the mouth which can cause bad breath.
  2. Avoid certain foods - If you are avoiding the obvious problem foods, such as garlic and onions, keep track of what you eat on a regular basis. This may help you and your general dentist pinpoint the cause of your bad breath. Also tell your dentist about any medications or vitamins you are taking as these may also trigger bad breath.
  3. Brush and floss twice daily - Brush your teeth (and tongue!) at least twice a day and also after lunch if possible. Floss to remove particles from between the teeth. Your general dentist can tell you which toothbrush and floss you should be using, or look for the ADA Seal of Approval which means a product has received a “thumbs up” from the American Dental Association.
  4. Quit tobacco - This means quitting smoking, dipping, and any other tobacco habit, which not only taints your breath, but leaves you at risk for developing oral cancer, lung cancer, and many other life-threatening conditions.
  5. See a doctor - If you have made these lifestyle changes and visited your general dentist with a clean checkup yet your halitosis persists, be sure to see your medical doctor immediately. You will benefit from having a checkup to ensure the problem is not a serious medical condition. If you suffer from dry mouth, your doctor may also give you a different prescription to curb that issue.