How to Make Your Breath Smell Good

Clinical Content Reviewed by Byte Licensed DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Bad Breath
  2. Ways for Natural Smelling Breath
  3. Foods for Good Breath
  4. Dental Products for Good Breath
  5. Resources

If you suffer from occasional or chronic bad breath (halitosis), you’re not alone. Research shows that at approximately 50 percent of the population has had bad breath at some point in their lives.1 

For many, having bad breath can be a source of embarrassment and frustration, especially if you don’t know what’s causing it or how to fix it.

To learn how to make your breath smell good, it’s important to understand what may be causing it to smell bad. There are many possible sources of bad breath. Some of the most common are poor oral hygiene, dietary choices, dry mouth, and smoking. 

Fortunately, many people can improve their breath by being proactive and changing their lifestyle, oral hygiene routine, and/or eating choices. If you take these steps and don’t notice an improvement in your breath, or if you notice a sudden or extreme change in how your breath smells, it may be time to seek medical help, as you may have an underlying health issue (or dental emergency) that is causing the odor in your mouth.

Understanding Bad Breath

Bad breath is an odor that is coming from your mouth. To improve it, you must identify the source.

What in your mouth is causing the smell? Bacteria, food particles, and tobacco are all possible culprits, depending on your issue.

Most bad breath is caused by bacteria. There are hundreds of types of bacteria in the mouth that could cause bad breath, including plaque. This is a sticky bacterium that is always forming on your teeth and can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. 

The bacteria in your mouth feed off of each other and off food particles and residue. Sugars and starches, in particular, feed these bacteria.

With this understanding, it’s easy to see how poor oral hygiene can cause bad breath. 

A good oral hygiene routine includes brushing, flossing, and using an antimicrobial mouthwash. All of these activities work to remove bacteria and food particles from the mouth. 

Flossing and mouthwash are important, as they remove bacteria from in between teeth, which can be hard to target or reach with a toothbrush. Bacteria and food particles can accumulate in these inaccessible areas. 

Without an effective daily dental routine, bacteria and particles build up and can overtake the mouth’s ecosystem. This can lead not only to bad breath, but also to tooth decay, gum disease, and even losing teeth. Cavities and gum disease also create bad breath, as they foster more areas for bacteria to accumulate in. 

Dry mouth can also cause bacteria-related bad breath. If you have a dry mouth, you’re not creating enough saliva, which naturally cleanses and protects the teeth and reduces bacteria.

In addition to creating bacteria, some foods leave a distinct or bad odor in your mouth. Foods like garlic, onions, and coffee may leave an unpleasant smell.

Smoking has a number of poor effects on your overall health, including your oral health. Smoking can contribute to bad breath by making your mouth dry, leaving a foul tobacco smell, and increasing your risk of gum disease and decay. 

To learn more about the effects of smoking, as well as tips on how to quit, see this resource page from the American Lung Association.

Some medications and substances can release chemicals that are carried on the breath. Many also cause dry mouth.

These conditions create mucus that bacteria in the mouth feed on.

Surgical wounds after a surgery can cause bad breath, as well as tooth and gum infections and sores. If you have symptoms of an infection — including fever, pus, or throbbing pain — seek immediate medical care.

Some bad breath is the result of an underlying or chronic health condition. If your bad breath doesn’t seem to improve after changing your oral care routine or making different food choices, speak to your dentist or doctor about the possibility of a health problem that may be causing it. 

Health problems that may cause bad breath include:

  • Some cancers

  • Metabolic disorders

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Diabetes

  • Liver or kidney disease

What Naturally Makes Your Breath Smell Good?

For many people, making a few lifestyle changes can make all the difference when it comes to bad breath. Improving your breath can improve your confidence, and it can also help your oral health, which is linked to your overall health and wellness.2 

Changes you can make to improve your health include the following:

One of the most important things you can do to improve your breath is to maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine. This includes the following steps:

  • Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, being sure to brush the tongue.

  • Floss daily with care.

  • Use an antimicrobial mouthwash.

Seeing your dentist for regular visits can benefit your breath in a number of ways.

  • Regular cleanings won’t allow for plaque and bacteria buildup to get out of control. 

  • If you’ve missed appointments in the past or on a long-term basis, you may have hardened plaque (tartar, which is filled with bacteria) that can only be removed professionally.

  • Your dentist will be able to identify and treat dental problems (which could cause bad breath) before they get worse.

  • If you’re experiencing bad breath, you can talk to your dentist to see what may be causing it and if they can help.

Eating well will improve your general health and the health of your teeth too, resulting in better breath. While a diet of sugary foods and starches will increase your risk of bacteria buildup and tooth decay, a healthy diet with whole foods and vegetables will ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need for strong teeth and bones. 

A good diet will also increase your immunity and make you less susceptible to inflammation and infections, including gum and mouth infections.

Drinking more water is an easy and effective way to improve your breath. Some tap water contains fluoride, which can help prevent cavities and decay. Water also helps rinse away bacteria and food particles, and it can help to prevent dry mouth.

Foods That Make your Breath Smell Good

The best foods for a healthy smile and good breath include the following:

  1. Cheese, milk, and yogurt: These dairy choices are high in bone-building calcium and low in sugar. Cheese is high in phosphate, which helps balance the mouth’s PH levels, and yogurt contains probiotics that help to lower bad bacteria.

  2. Crunchy veggies like celery and carrots: By requiring a lot of chewing, these mineral-packed vegetables increase saliva flow and help wash away plaque and food particles.

  3. Leafy greens like kale and lettuce: Not only are these options nutrient-dense, but they also stimulate saliva flow and help to clean the teeth.

  4. Apples and pears: The fibrous texture of these naturally sweet treats stimulate the gums, get saliva flowing, and neutralize harmful acids.

  5. Cinnamon: This warming spice contains essential oils that can kill bad breath-forming bacteria.

Dental Products for Good Breath

While consistently caring for your teeth and gums is most important, some dental products are designed for, or can be especially helpful in, battling bad breath. These include the following:

  • An electric toothbrush or flosser: If you have trouble brushing or flossing effectively, an electric dental tool can help make your routine more manageable. It may also help gadget-lovers get excited for daily dental care.

  • Tongue scraper: The tongue can be a hotspot for oral bacteria. A simple scraper can make sure your tongue doesn’t get ignored when it comes to cleaning time.

  • Mouthwashes and toothpastes designed for bad breath: There are many products on the market aimed specifically at targeting bad-breath bacteria.

  • Dental probiotics: Dental probiotics (usually in the form of tablets or capsules) use “good” bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria that cause bad breath and oral problems.


Bad Breath. (March 2018). Mayo Clinic. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Halitosis. MouthHealthy by the American Dental Association. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

What Does Sugar Do to the Teeth? (November 2022). Colgate. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

8 Surprising Foods That Can Cause Bad Breath. (September 2018). Cooking Light Magazine. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

I Want to Quit Smoking. (October 2022). American Lung Association. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

8 Common Oral Infections. (November 2022). Colgate. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Oral Health: A Window to Your Overall Health. (October 2021). Mayo Clinic. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Oral Hygiene. (April 2022). Cleveland Clinic. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Diet and Dental Health. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

4 Ways Drinking Water Improves Your Smile. (February 2017). University of Illinois Chicago. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

The Best Foods for a Healthy Smile and Whole Body. (July 2018). University of Illinois Chicago. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

5 Foods to Keep Your Breath Smelling Fresh. (May 2017). Today. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

5 Products That Will Help Cure Your Bad Breath. (September 2017). Men’s Health. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

6 Dentist-Approved Mouthwashes to Fight Bad Breath. (June 2022). NBC News. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Medical Resources

1 Halitosis: From Diagnosis to Management. (January–June 2013). Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine. Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

2 Adolescence, Adulthood and Self-Perceived Halitosis: A Role of Psychological Factors. (June 2021). Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania). Date fetched: October 22, 2022.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.