Bad Breath Can Be A Sign Of A Serious Health Condition According to Chesterfield Dentist Jennifer Wheeler DMD

Bad Breath May Be More Than Embarrassing

Most adults and teens today know the basics when it comes to keeping their breath minty-fresh, but few realize that bad breath may be more than embarrassing. You may brush, floss, and use mouthwash a couple times each day but it may come as a shock to you that most cases of bad breath are actually due to dry mouth. When you don’t have enough moisture, the bacteria that live in your mouth thrive.

Not many folks know that after you’ve brushed your teeth, got yourself tucked in and finally fall off to sleep for the night that there’s little or no saliva production until you wake up the next morning. That’s what causes dryness and morning breath.

If morning breath is your only issue, you don’t really have a problem (just brush!). But many people have dry mouth (and the accompanying bad odor) that lingers all day and in a huge percentage of the cases it’s causes by the medication that they’re taking.

Seventy-five percent of prescription drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and blood pressure drugs, have dry mouth as a side effect.

So if you find people frequently backing away when you’re talking, ask your primary care doctor if your medications may be causing the foul stench. If so, sipping more water, chewing sugarless gum, or maybe switching to a different drug could help.

If your bad breath smells like moth ballsIn other instances, chronic bad breath could signal that something is amiss elsewhere in your body. And believe it or not the specific scent may provide clues that can help your doctor or dentist figure out what’s wrong.

1. If your breath smells like mothballs…

You might have allergies, post-nasal drip, or a sinus infection. When you have chronic sinus issues, the bacteria in your mouth can convert the proteins in mucus into a compound called skatole. Taking allergy medication, rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot, or (if your doctor determines you have a bacterial infection) starting antibiotics should help.

2. If your breath smells fruity…

You might have diabetes. Sugar in your bloodstream normally heads into your cells, where it’s used for energy. If that doesn’t happen, blood sugar rises, and your cells start burning fat for energy. The byproduct of that process is ketones, which can make your breath smell fruity.

When-your-bad-breath-smells-like-a-dirty-diaper3. If your breath smells like sour milk…

You might be lactose intolerant. This odor might indicate that you’re not breaking down the protein in dairy proteins properly. Of course, you’ll also likely have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, cramps, and (embarrassing) gas after indulging in milk products.

4. If your breath smells like a dirty diaper…

You might have a tonsil stone. Bacteria and debris can get stuck in your tonsils and form a visible “stone” in the crevices. It’s really rotten, like a dirty diaper. In most cases, your primary care doctor can probably remove the offending particle with a swab or forceps.

5. If your breath smells like something’s rotting…

You might have a lung disease. A very foul odor—much worse than traditional bad breath, could be a sign of a lung problem ranging from an If your breath smells like something's rotten, like fish breath call Jennifer Wheeler DMDinfection (like pneumonia) to cancer. Interestingly, breath tests designed to identify the odors associated with cancer are currently in the works. If you suspect you might have any problem with your lungs, see your doctor for an exam. After listening with a stethoscope, she might refer you for blood work, a chest x-ray, or other tests.

If you’ve got chronic bad breath that you just can’t seem to eliminate or you have questions about your teeth or smile… I want to encourage you to submit a question or comment below. If you’re in need of a 2nd opinion or are looking for a new dentist I want to invite you to call our office.

Helping you achieve “your” goals and desires and helping you regain, attain and/or keep the highest-level of oral health is our #1 priority.


  • Lisa Newhouse

    August 1, 2016

    What if I have a metallic taste in my mouth? Does that mean that I’m sick or that I just have to deal with it?

    • Jennifer Wheeler, DMD

      August 1, 2016

      Many things can cause a metallic taste in the mouth, but this does not necessarily mean that the odor of the air coming from the mouth is bad. In other words, a metallic taste bad breath symptom may be somewhat imaginary, and should be confirmed by obtaining an objective second opinion. Your primary physician can tell you whether you have a metallic smell bad breath or just normal breath odor, and he or she can also help to figure out where that odd odor or taste is coming from.

      Things that are known to cause a metal-like taste, and may create a metallic smell bad breath, include stomach problems such as heartburn, jaundice, metal poisoning, other types of poisoning, dental problems, many drugs, and pregnancy. If you have any of these conditions, you probably already have a good idea where your metallic taste bad breath symptom is coming from. Again, consult your doctor for confirmation and advice on what you can do.

  • The Dean

    August 1, 2016

    Are there specific mouthwashes that can dry out your mouth Dr. Wheeler? I remember that mouthwash with alcohol seemed to make my mouth feel dry, but I’m not sure.

    Any suggestions?

    • Jennifer Wheeler, DMD

      August 1, 2016

      Yes it’s true… mouthwash that contains alcohol often tends to dry out your mouth. There are numerous brands that make an alcohol-free version of their mouthwash that you can find at your local grocery store and/or pharmacy.