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5 Unexpected Things That Are Giving You Bad Breath

Got a bad case of stank mouth? This might be the culprit.

You probably already know that it’s not a good idea to eat garlic aioli fries before a big date. But what else can give you a bad case of stank breath? Aside from the obvious culprits, like smoking, dry mouth, or halitosis, there are actually a few other, less obvious causes for bad breath.

The good news? Once you ID the cause, there are a few quick things you can do to get rid of bad breath. The bad news? You might have to temporarily change up a few aspects of your lifestyle, such as your diet. (You also may have to lay off the garlic aioli fries for a little bit.) Experts weigh in on what might be going on in your mouth and how you can freshen up stat.


The ketogenic diet has been ridiculously trendy as of late (bacon can help you lose weight? Sign us up.) But even though you might be getting your fill of crispy ham and eggs on the keto diet, you may also be getting some nasty breath.

“Basically, when someone goes on a ketogenic diet, they force their body to create molecules called ketones. A specific ketone, called acetone, tends to be excreted in the breath and urine. Acetone has a funky smell that some people say is like rotten fruit,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD.

Because you’re cutting down on carbs and increasing fat intake to use ketones, rather than glucose, for energy and fuel, your body needs to get used to the transition. Luckily, bad breath is only a temporary side effect. “Once your body gets used to this ketogenic state (1-2 weeks), the bad breath should subside,” Rizzo says.


Like the Keto Diet, the Paleo Diet requires you to cut down on carbs. But Paleo focuses on bulking up on protein, rather than eating more fat. Unfortunately, the potential side effect of Paleo and Keto is the same: stanky breath.

Paleo diets are often high in protein compared to ‘standard Western diets,’ and high consumption of protein has been linked to bad breath in some people,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., best-selling author of Eat Dirt. Here’s why: “Eating lots of protein can cause an increase in ammonia which causes a foul smell in the mouth, which is sometimes described as ‘fishy’ or even smelling like urine,” he says. Yuck.

To get rid of bad breath on the Paleo Diet, you have to replace some of the protein in your diet with other paleo-friendly foods, says Axe. “Excess protein in your diet won’t actually be beneficial and may be straining your digestive organs,” he says.

Try increasing your intake of olive oil, nuts, seeds and coconut oil — and, if you’re willing, eat more unprocessed carbs, such as sweet potatoes and fruit, he says.


Do you have chest burning, burping, and pain? You could have acid reflux. “Acid reflux is caused by inflammation of the esophagus and certain lifestyle or dietary habits. It can cause bad breath, because the acid extends up from the stomach and into the mouth,“ Axe says.

Acid reflux can contribute to tooth erosion and other dental/gum problems, which can exacerbate the problem. “If someone also has ulcers, kidney failure, diabetes, metabolic dysfunction or liver disease in addition to acid reflux/heartburn, then they are even more likely to deal with bad breath,” he explains.

If you suspect you might have acid reflux, you should consult with a gastroenterologist. But you can also reduce the effects by changing your diet. “Avoid fried foods, fast food, and too much alcohol and coffee,” Axe says.


You already know that cutting your food intake can lead to changes in your mood (hence the term “hangry”). But believe it or not, hunger can contribute to bad breath as well. Not eating for extended periods of time can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth, which causes dry mouth.

“Inside a dry mouth, bacteria that cause unpleasant odors can multiply more easily, since saliva is needed to control them,” says Axe. “Being hungry also changes production of bacteria and enzymes in your mouth, which sometimes leads to an usual smell.” Drink lots of water and maybe keep a few healthy snacks in your desk just in case.


If you’re prone to headaches, you may have noticed that your mouth feels a little more metallic than usual. If you also have a runny nose, increased mucus, shortness of breath, or fever, it’s possible that you have a sinus infection, which could lead to bad breath, says Axe. “Sinus and respiratory infections can cause bad breath (or even halitosis) due to increased bacteria activity and tissue damage in the respiratory system,” he says.

If you don’t have any other symptoms and your headaches are particularly painful, you may be prone to migraines. While prescription drugs can help treat migraines, Axe also suggests tracking your sleep habits or dietary choices to identify potential triggers. “Speak with your doctor about potentially having another health problem that is causing your headaches, such as a hormonal imbalance, allergies or thyroid disorder,” he says.

The takeaway? Keep your mouth fresh, for everyone’s sake. In addition to maintaining good dental hygiene, Axe suggests drinking lots of water and adding peppermint to tea to remove foul odors. You can also try flossing after meals, or brushing or scraping your tongue.

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