The Nose Knows: What Bad Breath Says about Your Health

  • February 1, 2021
  • 2 minutes read

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a saying almost everyone has heard. But are you familiar with the follow-up? “An onion a day keeps everyone away!”

Medically referred to as ‘halitosis’, bad breath is often attributed to certain foods in one’s diet, and can be made worse by poor dental habits and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Here are some tips for not only getting rid of bad breath, but also information on what other conditions to look out for should increased oral hygiene prove ineffective.

It can be hard to identify the problem on your own. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do to check if you have bad breath.

Ask Someone

An easy solution would be to get someone to be honest with you about your breath. If you feel self-conscious, you can always ask your dentist during your next visit.

Breath into Cupped Hands

Take a deep breath, and then cup your hands over your nose and mouth. Breathe out through your mouth slowly, and inhale quicky and deeply – you should be able to smell your breath.

Lick Your Wrist

Lick your wrist, let it dry for five seconds, then take a whiff. If it smells offensive, then your breath probably smells bad.


  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day and swish it around in your mouth
  • Rinse well with mouthwash after meals to remove loose food particles
  • Replace your toothbrush every two to three months, or whenever the bristles fray
  • Go for regular dental check-ups and request teeth cleanings
  • Use a tongue scraper to eliminate bad bacteria on the tongue
  • Chew a sprig of fresh herb such as parsley, basil or mint to neutralise odours


Other than eating foods known for their pungent smells, however, did you know that bad breath can be caused by other, potentially serious, underlying health issues? Strange as it may seem, problems with the liver, kidneys and intestines can cause chronic bad breath. If unusual smells persist despite good oral hygiene habits, it may be time to see your doctor.


If you suffer from allergies, you may be afflicted with bad breath in addition to a scratchy throat, stuffy nose, and watery eyes. Mucus and nasal drip may provide a fertile breeding ground for germs that cause bad breath. Often, when eliminating allergy symptoms, you would experience dry mouth and insufficient saliva, enabling bacteria to stick around and cause bad breath.

Oral Conditions

Gum disease is one of the leading causes of bad breath. In mild cases, called ‘gingivitis’, the gums may be swollen and bleed easily, but usually with little to no discomfort. It’s often caused by inadequate oral hygiene and can be reversed with treatment and good oral care. However, if left untreated, your gums will become an easy target of periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Your digestive tract has more to do with your oral health than you think. Since bad breath is caused by the presence of specific gases in your mouth, it may be helpful to get a breath test done. Excess ammonia, for instance, may hint at renal failure. Bad breath could also suggest a stomach ulcer or gall bladder blockage.


The different stages of lung and stomach cancer can lead to varying degrees of bad breath. This is because cancer tumours produce chemicals that give off a distinct odour. Increasingly, breath tests are being used to distinguish between early and late-stage cancers.


Inadequate insulin production causes the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrate, which leads to an increase in the amount of ketones the body secretes. Since the body can’t eliminate these ketones quickly enough, bad breath can occur.

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