Too Embarrassed to Ask About Bad Breath?

Too Embarrassed to Ask: Bad Breath

Bad breath is a common complaint as we age, but most cases are easy to resolve.

Medicare Advantage offers dental coverage that may help save your teeth – and your breath! Call for plans in your area.

1-888-992-0738 / TTY:711

M-F 8:00am-10:00pm | Sat 9:00am-6:00pm EST


Worried that the raw onion from your salad at lunch is lingering on your breath? Or that the foul taste in your mouth is released each time you exhale?

Join the club! At one time or another, everyone has halitosis, or bad breath. But if you know the cause of the problem, you can avoid embarrassment and enjoy being and talking with others, worry-free.

Bad breath causes

Bad breath can be caused by many different factors. Here are some common culprits:

Poor oral health

Failing to brush or floss daily–or to see a dentist regularly–are surefire routes to bad-smelling breath. In addition to causing tooth decay and gum disease, the bacteria that coat your teeth, gums, and tongue can sometimes emit odorous gasses. Smelly gasses can also be released when food gets caught on your teeth and tongue and begins to, well, rot.

Read about gum disease and how to avoid it.

Particular foods

Some foods are notorious for making your breath smell bad. “You breathe what you eat,” Jonathan B. Levine, DMD, an associate professor at the NYU School of Dentistry, told Everyday Health. “High-protein foods, coffee, onions and garlic, sugar, acidic foods and drinks, and dairy products all result in worse breath because they create an environment for bad bacteria to grow.” Dr. Levine adds that these foods need to be balanced with fruits and veggies.


Tobacco products—cigars, cigarettes, snuff, and smokeless tobacco—are well known for causing bad breath, in addition to other negative health consequences.

Dry mouth

Your mouth requires saliva to clean itself and to get rid of food particles. So, when the level of saliva is low, often due to breathing through your mouth or as a side effect of certain medications, your breath can become smelly.

Certain health conditions

Bad breath often has an underlying medical cause, including:

  • A respiratory infection, such as chronic bronchitis or sinusitis
  • Diabetes
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • A gastrointestinal disorder, such as reflux

Do you have bad breath?

It’s not always easy to know if your breath reeks. But if you’re worried, there are ways to test it.

One way to check is to lick your wrist or the back of your hand, let it sit for a few seconds, and then take a whiff. If it smells bad to you, it likely does to others, too.

You can also take a piece of cotton gauze, wipe the surface of your mouth, and give it the smell test. Or just ask your partner or a good friend to give you the unvarnished truth.

Bad breath fixes

Whatever is causing your bad breath usually has a remedy. These solutions should conquer most cases.

Better oral hygiene

The first step to sweeter-smelling breath is to take good care of your teeth and gums. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

Also, establish a regular flossing habit or use interdental brushes. Brushing alone only cleans about 60 percent of the surface of your teeth.

Be sure to visit the dentist twice yearly for a check-up and cleaning. The dentist or dental hygienist will look for places where there’s a buildup of plaque and can clean even hard-to-reach places.

In addition to brushing your teeth, you can also stave off halitosis by gently brushing your tongue (or use a tongue scraper), your cheeks, and the roof of your mouth. Brushing your tongue can reduce bad breath by as much as 70%, according to the American Dental Association!

If you have gum disease, you may need to see a periodontist for care. A periodontal cleaning helps remove the bacteria or plaque that is causing inflammation at the gum lines and helps to vanquish bad odors. You may be advised to use an antimicrobial rinse.

If you have dentures, you should remove them at night and clean them well before putting them back into your mouth. If you have a permanent dental bridge, ask your dentist to show you how to floss and clean under it.

Make better food choices

If you know you will be around other people, lay off offending foods like coffee, onions, and sweets. Eat more fruits and veggies instead. Garlic is a particular offender because it breaks down slowly in your body and continues to release odors for hours!

Kick butts

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but there are big payoffs for your health—and your breath. If you do slip up and smoke, keep trying to break the habit. It may take several tries before you succeed.

Learn 9 tips to quit smoking (and how Medicare can help!)

Keep saliva flowing

Certain foods, such as carrots and apples, help stimulate the production of saliva. Or you can use sugar-free gum or candies to do the trick. Also, ask your doctor if any medications you take can cause dry mouth and if there are alternative medications.

Older people sometimes lack sufficient saliva for normal self-cleaning. A dentist may recommend artificial saliva if you need it. Available over the counter, they include Mouth Kote, Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray, and Biotene OralBalance Moisturizing Gel.

Take control of your health

If you have a medical condition that causes bad breath, see your doctor about ways to better manage your health and avoid this unsavory side effect. Better health and breath often go hand-in-hand!

Can Medicare help keep your breath fresh?

Good dental care is important for many aspects of your health, not just for fresh breath! Original Medicare doesn’t cover most dental care procedures, but most Medicare Advantage plans do. Many Advantage plans also include allowances for over-the-counter products like antibacterial oral rinses and smoking cessation patches and gum. Find out what Advantage plans are available in your area with our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.

Additional resources

Lynn Cicchelli is a writer with over 20 years' worth of experience creating healthy lifestyle content for both print and digital publications. Originally from New York, Lynn currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, stepson, and dog Indiana.


Find a Medicare Plan in your area

It’s FREE with no obligation

Speak with a Licensed Insurance Agent

M-F 8:00am-10:00pm | Sat 9:00am-6:00pm EST