How should breath smell?

Bad breath can indicate illness

Bad breath is embarrassing for many. Bad breath can be a symptom of serious illnesses. How you can tell which disease is behind bad breath.

Bad breath can have a number of causes. Usually they are harmless and can be remedied through thorough dental hygiene. But behind bad breath there can also be serious illnesses. We asked Professor Uwe Heemann from the Department of Nephrology at the Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich which diseases are involved and what smell they can be recognized by.

The main cause is in the mouth or throat

In up to 90 percent of all cases, the cause of bad breath lies in the mouth or throat. Bacteria in the spaces between the teeth, which release sulfur when saliva or food scraps decompose, are usually responsible for bad breath. They can lead to inflammation of the gums and large cavities, which in turn spread a bad odor.

This is why incorrectly brushing your teeth is a major cause of bad breath. To avoid this, the interdental spaces should be cleaned regularly with dental floss or interdental brushes in addition to the toothbrush. Coatings from the tongue should also be removed.

Tonsillitis smells foul

If the bad breath persists despite brushing your teeth and even a dental examination does not produce any results, there may be a disease behind the bad breath that must be treated by an internist or ENT doctor.

For example, tonsillitis, throat, or sinus infections can be considered. Professor Heemann explains: "With chronic tonsillitis, there is a typical putrid, purulent bad breath. It is caused by bacteria that settle in the deep, small cavities of the tonsils."

Bad breath from diabetes

Sometimes the bad breath can also indicate an acute illness. According to Heemann, a fruity bad breath - technically called ketone odor - suggests undetected or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

"This smell helps a patient in the emergency room to recognize that they are diabetic with insulin deficiency," said the internist. The fruit-like smell can also be the result of an eating disorder or result from prolonged fasting. Then it already helps to eat something to drive away the bad breath.

Kidney disease can be recognized by the breath

According to Heemann, breath that smells of urine or ammonia can be an indication of kidney weakness or even kidney failure. "This is due to the excessively high urea content in the body," says the expert. The kidneys normally excrete these substances in the urine. But when the kidneys stop working properly, the pollutants enter the bloodstream and are exhaled through the lungs.

Lung problems are also sometimes expressed by bad breath, for example abscesses in the lungs lead to a foul odor in the breath. From a certain stage onwards, specialists can smell whether a patient has lung cancer. But such diagnoses are very rare, according to Professor Heemann.

Typical sour smell in stomach disorders

"Diabetes and kidney disease are the two diseases that can most often be recognized by bad breath," says the expert. "The sour smell of stomach ailments is also relatively typical." This is the case when an inflammation of the stomach lining or tumors in the esophagus or stomach cause liquids or foul-smelling gases to enter the oral cavity.

"Nowadays, however, smells tend to play a subordinate role," explains Heemann. Laboratory tests and medical devices have largely displaced odor diagnostics. "But in rural medical practices with little technical equipment, the diagnosis of the smell is still a common and helpful procedure"

What to do if you have bad breath

If there is no illness behind the bad breath, you can often get rid of bad breath if you follow a few tips:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day. Don't forget your tongue.
  • You can also use dental floss or interdental brushes.
  • Drink lots of water or unsweetened teas. A dry mouth can promote odor formation.
  • A mouthwash with sage tea also reduces odor formation.

If you are unsure where your bad breath is coming from or if it persists despite the measures taken, consult a doctor to be on the safe side.

Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.

more on the subject

  • Subjects:
  • Dental care,
  • Bad breath,
  • Bacteria,
  • Health,
  • Diseases,
  • Diabetic,
  • Almonds,
  • Lung,
  • Stomach,
  • Tonsillitis,
  • Inflammation of the gastric mucosa,
  • Eating disorder,
  • Kidney failure,
  • Lung cancer
  • Munich