9 Things Your Bad Breath Reveals About Your Health

Updated: Sep. 29, 2020

Bad breath, or halitosis, can mean more than you need to brush more. These bad breath traits can tell you a lot about your health.


If your breath smells and you’re trying to lose weight…

…you could be overdoing the dieting. “If you’re not eating enough or as frequently as you should, your mouth isn’t being bathed in saliva, which helps neutralize bacteria that can cause it to become odorous,” says Ada Cooper, DDS, a New York City-based dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. If you’re restricting your diet, try to still eat regularly throughout the day and drink plenty of water to keep your mouth lubricated. Here are 12 reasons your breath is stinkier than usual.


If your breath smells fishy…

…you could have kidney disease. Since the kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from the blood by creating urine, when they malfunction these waste products are no longer able to be filtered out of the body; a fishy odor can occur when kidney failure begins to affect the respiratory system. But you probably won’t have to rely on your breath to tell you your kidneys are struggling. “Usually you won’t be able to diagnose a disease like this just from your breath odor,” says Dr. Cooper.


If your breath smells and you notice white spots on your tongue…

…you might have an oral yeast infection, also called thrush, which occurs when there’s an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth. If you wear dentures at night, are receiving chemotherapy, have an immune condition, or use an asthma inhalers or steroid medication you could be at risk. Other symptoms include soreness in the mouth area, difficulty swallowing, and cracking at the corners of the mouth. These are the very worst foods for halitosis.


If your breath smells fruity…

…and you’re diabetic, your body might not be producing enough insulin, a serious complication called ketoacidosis. “A fruity or acetone smell, like nail polish, could occur if you have uncontrolled diabetes; when there’s not enough insulin, the body uses fatty acids for energy, which produces byproducts that smell fruity,” says Dr. Cooper.


If your breath smells based on the seasons…

…you might have allergies. The mucus and post nasal drip allergies tend to trigger can be a breeding ground for germs that cause bad breath. Some allergy medications can also cause dry mouth, another cause of bad breath.

iStock/Aldo Murillo

If your breath smells like sour milk…

…you could be lactose intolerant, although you’ve probably had more noticeable  signs like nausea or diarrhea. When your body can’t break down dairy proteins properly, your breath can take on a sour odor, Harold Katz, DDS, a dentist and bacteriologist in California told Prevention. Here are the 37 secrets your dentist won’t tell you.


If your breath smells like something’s rotting…

…it could be because something is: food. “Food can decompose in your mouth and produce a rotten odor if you don’t brush or floss enough to remove it,” says Dr. Cooper. Poor brushing and flossing increases your risk of developing cavities or gum disease, two other things that can cause foul breath. Dr. Cooper recommends using an antiseptic mouthwash if your breath problem is severe. “Mints and regular mouthwash sometimes just mask it,” she says.


If your breath smells like a dirty diaper…

…you could have a tonsil stone. When bacteria and debris gets stuck in your tonsils, they can form a “stone” in the crevices, according to Prevention. A doctor will have to remove the particle. Fix the problem with these 11 home remedies for bad breath.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest