What is Your Bad Breath Trying to Tell You?

September 6, 2017   |   Leave a comment   |   5

How often would you say you breathe into your own palm to check your breath? Once a day? Couple times a week? How much money do you estimate you’ve spent on chewing gum or breath mints?

While bad breath can be an awkward social problem, it can also be a symptom of a very real health problem. If you have been suffering from halitosis, it’s important to understand it may be a sign you have something more serious going on.

Here are some illnesses that can impact your breath.

Stomach Cancer 

To test for stomach cancer, doctors have historically performed an endoscopy on their patients.  This procedure requires a tube be inserted down into the throat so the doctor can see what is there. There may also be tissue removal for testing.

But there is a new procedure, a breath test, that doctors say may be the best way to detect stomach cancer, before any other symptoms appear.

Lung Cancer 

Doctors can also use a breath tests to check for lung cancer. No longer are painful biopsies the only way to detect lung cancer, an “electronic nose” can analyze the breath for compounds that reveal the disease. The breath test is also incredibly accurate. In one study, the test correctly identified lung cancer in 128 nonsmokers and only got five diagnoses wrong.

Heart Failure 

By testing the breath, doctors can identify patients who are in heart failure or have other heart conditions. These breath tests check the breath for specific chemical compounds that are used as markers or indicators.


One of the first signs of diabetes is when the breath smells like nail polish remover. This happens when the body doesn’t have enough insulin and uses fatty acids for ketones for energy. If left untreated, this can lead to coma or even death.

Kidney Failure 

If a person has not eaten fish or recently taken fish oil supplements, but their breath smells like fish, or even like ammonia, it can be a sign of kidney failure. When kidneys are failing, they can no longer filter waste from the blood, and this can be smelled on the breath.

Sleep Apnea 

We all know about (and all have) “morning breath.” Everyone wakes up with bad breath because when we sleep, bacteria grow in our mouths overnight. But, if you are someone who wakes up with particularly bad breath, it may be a sign of sleep apnea.

Acid Reflux

Besides stomach cancer, bad breath can tell us we have other stomach issues, like acid reflux. People with reflux have problems digesting their food. The first sign of this problem is the smell of decayed food on the breath.

Respiratory Infection

You may have a cold or flu, bronchitis or a sinus infections, but if your breath smells foul, it may be a result of the bacteria in your respiratory system.

If you have bad breath combined with other symptoms, such as pain, trouble eating, or weight loss, see your doctor immediately to determine if something else, something more serious is going on.


Does bad breath always mean you’re very ill?

No, of course not. Many people develop bad breath from time to time because of poor oral hygiene, and some people suffer from it more than others.

Of course, the best way to combat halitosis is to develop good oral hygiene habits. You most likely already know the basics: Brush at least twice a day, floss, avoid sugary snacks, and so on.

But here are some other oral hygiene tips you may not be aware of:

How to Brush

You probably never think about how you are positioning the bristles when brushing your teeth, but positioning matters. Your brush head should be at a 45-degree angle near your gum line, and again when you go to clean the inside surfaces of your teeth.

Don’t Forget to Give Your Tongue Some Love

Many people brush their teeth but completely skip over their tongue. But a ton of bacteria grows on your tongue. It’s important that you clean your tongue each and every time you brush your teeth. You can use your toothbrush (some have ridges on the back of the head designed to be used on the tongue) or a tongue scraper. This does wonders to alleviate bad breath.

Seal the Deal

Sealants are thin protective coatings applied to the back teeth that can help prevent decay and cavities. These can be an especially good idea for kids, who often have trouble reaching their back teeth while brushing.

Chew, Chew, and Chew Some More

When you hear the word saliva, or good ol’ spit, you probably scrunch up your face at the idea of it. But spit is your friend. Research has shown that saliva helps protect against gum disease and tooth decay. Our teeth are covered with a thin film of saliva that helps defend against bacteria. In fact, there are antimicrobial agents in saliva that help kill bacteria.

As we get older, we have a harder time producing saliva. Maybe you even suffer from dry mouth occasionally. Chewing sugar-free gum throughout the day, especially after eating or drinking, helps produce saliva and protect your teeth and gums.

Get More Vitamin D

It’s not only calcium that is important to the health of our teeth and gums but also vitamin D. If you don’t get enough sun each day, or can’t because you seasonally deal with colder temperatures and gray skies, take a vitamin D supplement.

See Your Dentist Regularly

Most people hate going to the dentist, and only make an appointment when they have a dental emergency like pain or a tooth gets chipped. But most problems can be prevented if their underlying cause is found early. A regular check-up more than pays for itself by preventing costly (and painful!) dental procedures down the road.





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