The Silent Signs Your Bad Breath Could Be Something Serious

“Sometimes bad breath is just an indication of something else that’s going on in the body.”

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OK, there’s no question that certain foods, like garlic or onions, may cause your breath to stink to high heaven. But what if you haven’t eaten anything potent lately and your breath still smells kinda funky?

“Sometimes it’s an underlying condition and the bad breath is just an indication of something else that’s going on in their body or their mouth,” says says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, a dentist in New York City.

Here are three of the most common medical causes of smelly breath—and what you can do to freshen up.

1. Gum disease. If a patient is complaining of chronic bad breath, Dr Jablow says the first thing dentists look for is the presence of gum disease. “Gum disease can cause bad breath because bacteria is harboring deep inside the pockets of the gum tissue,” says Dr. Jablow. “And for that we do deep cleanings and make sure that their periodontal health or gum health becomes better.”

2. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition where the mouth dries out from reduced or absent saliva flow. When you don’t have that natural saliva flow to wash away bacteria, it can cause bad breath. Dry mouth may be a side effect of certain medications or even using alcohol-based mouthwashes. “Alcohol dries out the mouth and you don’t have that natural saliva protection,” says Dr. Jablow.

3. Acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid that’s naturally in your stomach backs up into the esophagus. When stomach acid comes up, so does undigested food and regurgitated bile, which can cause bad breath. You can treat acid reflux with medication as well as by avoiding these heartburn-inducing foods and eating habits.

How to Treat Bad Breath

If your stinky breath is caused by a food you ate or other daily habits, you can fix the stank with these dentist-recommended bad breath remedies.

If your bad breath just won’t ease up, visit your dentist for a checkup to rule out anything serious that needs medical attention. “It’s important to see your dentist as a first line of defense to see if you have any gum problems that are developing,” says Dr. Jablow. “If it’s something that’s going on in your stomach, your dentist will refer you to a doctor.”