Breath odor is the scent of the air you breathe out of your mouth. Unpleasant breath odor is commonly called bad breath.
Some disorders will produce distinct breath odors.
Bad breath related to poor oral hygiene is most common and caused by release of sulphur compounds by bacteria in the mouth.
A fruity odor to the breath is a sign of ketoacidosis, which may occur in diabetes. It is a potentially life-threatening condition.
Breath that smells like feces can occur with prolonged vomiting, especially when there is a bowel obstruction. It may also occur temporarily if a person has a tube placed through the nose or mouth to the stomach to drain the stomach contents (nasogastric tube) in place.
The breath may have an ammonia-like odor (also described as urine-like or "fishy") in people with chronic kidney failure.
Bad breath can be caused by:
Diseases that may be associated with breath odor:
Use proper dental hygiene, especially flossing. Remember that mouthwashes are not effective in treating the underlying problem.
Fresh parsley or a strong mint is often an effective way to fight temporary bad breath. Avoid smoking.
Otherwise, follow your doctor's instructions to treat any underlying cause of bad breath.
Your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam.
You may be asked the following medical history questions:
The physical exam will include a thorough inspection of the mouth and the nose. A throat culture may be taken if you have a sore throat or mouth sores.
In rare cases, diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
Antibiotics may be prescribed for some conditions. For an object in the nose, the doctor will use an instrument to remove it.
Bad breath; Halitosis
Stein PS, Miller CS, Fowler CB. Oral disorders. In: Ham RJ, Sloane PD, Warshaw GA, Bernard MA, Potter JF, Flaherty E, eds. Primary Care Geriatrics: A Case-Based Approach. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 53.
Murr AH. Approach to the patient with nose, sinus, and ear disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 434.
Updated by: Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Palm Beach Prosthodontics Dental Associates, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2014, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.