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Bad Breath: Causes and How to Fix it

Published | 7 min read

Bad breath is a disorder that can treated with proper oral care. However, it can also indicate other more severe health conditions.

Man looking at a woman smilingly as she looks to the side while closing her nose as they sit up in bed

Imagine waking up to a bright, sunlit morning. You turn to your side, and your partner is fast asleep with a smile on their face. At that exact moment, they awake and bid you good morning. It sounds like the perfect start to the day, right? Well, not quite, especially if in addition to their greeting, you catch a whiff of bad breath. Oof. Talk about a downer. 

Discover what causes bad breath and how it can be prevented.

A man and woman brushing their teeth while dancing in front of a mirror
 Proper oral care is one of the best ways to prevent bad breath.

Reasons for Foul-Smelling Breath 

Chronic bad breath (also called halitosis) often relates to a dry mouth or lack of dental care. It can also indicate an oral disease or illnesses affecting other areas of the body. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the condition stems from pathogenic factors like phlegm, Heat, Dampness and Qi (vital life force) Stagnation in the Stomach, Lungs and the Large Intestines.

Dry mouth 

A decrease in saliva production prevents the mouth from cleaning itself and removing food debris and particles. Dry mouth can happen for a few reasons, including frequent mouth ulcers, a salivary gland disorder, or the use of certain medications.

Poor oral hygiene 

Not brushing or flossing teeth regularly is another common cause of bad breath. Food particles can wedge between teeth when a person eats. Bacteria disintegrates these particles, giving rise to foul breath. It can also make a person vulnerable to tooth decay and gum diseases.

Likewise, a person can also have bad breath if they use dentures but don’t clean them correctly. 

Underlying medical conditions 

Postnasal drip – a feeling of excess mucus dripping down the throat and back of the nose – chronic bronchitis or sinusitis, and nose, windpipe and lung infections can make a person prone to bad breath.

People with diabetes or gastrointestinal, kidney, or liver disorders can also be susceptible to the condition. 

Woman blowing a chewing gum bubble
Chewing sugar-free gum can help improve saliva production.

How to Help a Partner (or Yourself) Say Goodbye to Bad Breath 

To avoid turning off a partner or being turned off by bad breath, the practice of proper oral care habits is necessary. Examples of these are: 

  • Stopping tobacco use 
  • Flossing once a day 
  • Drinking enough water 
  • Limiting the consumption of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages 
  • Cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush or tongue scraper 
  • Eating foods or chewing sugar-free gum to boost saliva production 
  • Brushing teeth or dentures twice a day for two minutes at a time 
  • Visiting the dentist every six months for a check-up and professional teeth cleaning 

Use proper brushing and flossing techniques 

Are you brushing and flossing your teeth daily like you’re supposed to? If you still have bad breath despite doing so, there’s a possibility that you’re not doing it the right way.

Proper brushing technique starts with using a soft-bristled toothbrush. The toothbrush must also be a shape and size that helps clean your mouth comfortably. Hold it at a 45˚ angle and use short strokes. Aim to reach the inside, outside, and top of each tooth.

Refrain from pressing hard against your teeth as it will not work as well if the bristles are flattened. It should be replaced after three to four months or if it looks worn. 

Separately, the appropriate way to floss involves firstly knowing the right amount of cord to use. Break off approximately 18 inches of floss. Wrap it around your middle fingers and use your thumbs and forefingers to hold it tightly. Then, guide the middle section of the floss between your teeth, rubbing gently to remove food debris and particles.

Tackle oral or gum disorders 

If you’ve been diagnosed with gum disease, your gum line is likely inflamed. To treat the condition, it’s advisable to undergo a cleaning procedure performed by a periodontist. Doing so will help remove the bacteria, plaque, or tartar build-up causing the inflammation.

Likewise, the periodontist or a dentist may propose the use of an anti-microbial mouth rinse, especially if the plaque deposits are extensive.

Resolve Lung phlegm and Heat 

The consumption of herbal formulas and ingredients can be helpful for these constitutional imbalances. A few of the formulas that can be considered include: 

  • San ren tang (三仁汤)  
  • Bai he gu jin tang (百合固金汤)  
  • Ma xing shi gan tang (麻杏石甘汤)  
  • Qian jin wei jing tang (千金苇茎汤)  
  • Qing qi hua tan tang (清气化痰汤)  
  • Yang yin qing fei tang (养阴清肺汤) 

You can also do away with these syndromes by using individual ingredients:  

  • Blackberrykiky rhizome (she gan, 射干) 
  • Fritillaria (zhe bei mu, 浙贝母) 
  • Burdock (niu bang zi, 牛蒡子)  
  • Snakegourd (gua lou, 瓜蒌) 
  • Heartleaf Houttuynia (yu xing cao, 鱼腥草)
  • Mulberry bark (sang bai pi, 桑白皮) 
  • Scutellaria root (huang qin, 黄芩) 
  • Loquat leaves (pi pa ye, 枇杷叶) 

Likewise, you may also stimulate a set of distinct acupressure points to achieve the same objective, including: 

  • He gu (LI4, 合谷) 
  • Chi ze (LU5, 尺泽) 
  • Lie que (LU7, 列缺) 
  • Yu ji (LU10, 鱼际) 
  • Feng long (ST40, 丰隆) 

Address Heat, Dampness and Qi Stagnation in the Stomach and Large Intestines 

You can also get rid of bad breath by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and fixing Qi Stagnation. The collective of formulas and natural ingredients that can help are: 

  • Amomum (sha ren, 砂仁) 
  • Gypsum (shi gao, 石膏) 
  • Patchouli (huo xiang, 藿香)  
  • Rhubarb (da huang, 大黄)  
  • Betel nut (bin lang, 槟榔) 
  • Chinese coptis (huang lian, 黄连)  
  • Costus root (mu xiang, 木香)  
  • Hawthorn berry (shan zha, 山楂) 
  • Magnolia Bark (hou pu, 厚朴)  
  • Medicated leaven (shen qu, 神曲) 
  • Pinellia tuber (ban xia, 半夏) 
  • Radish seed (lai fu zi, 莱菔子) 
  • Tangerine peel (chen pi, 陈皮)  
  • Immature bitter orange (zhi shi, 枳实)  
  • Lian po yin (连朴饮)  
  • Qing wei san (清胃散)  
  • Xie huang san (泻黄散)  
  • Yu nu jian (玉女煎) 
  • Yin chen hao tang (茵陈蒿汤)  
  • Gan lu xiao du dan (甘露消毒丹)  
  • Ge gen qin lian tang (葛根芩连汤)  
  • Mu xiang bing lang wan (木香槟榔丸) 
  • Xiang sha liu jun zi tang (香砂六君子汤)  
  • Zhi shi dao zhi wan (枳实导滞丸)  

Applying pressure to the he gu (LI4, 合谷), tai chong (LR3, 太沖), zhong wan (RN12, 中脘), yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉), tian shu (ST25, 天枢), zu san li (ST36, 足三里) and shang ju xu (ST37, 上巨虛) points too, can treat these imbalances and reverse bad breath.

How Safe are These Proposed Treatment Options? 

According to Real Health Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew, acupressure, and herbs and formulas are only suitable for mild or generic cases of bad breath, which can be complicated with varying underlying pathologies.

He cautions, “Some people may benefit, and others can even experience a worsening of their existing condition, or an arise in new problems. I strongly advise against purchasing any self-treatment of any types to self-medicate without first undergoing a thorough consultation with a TCM practitioner.”


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Bad Breath (Halitosis). [online] [Accessed 26 April 2022]
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Halitosis (Bad Breath). [online] [Accessed 26 April 2022]
  3. Research Gate, November 2018, Whether Chinese Medicine Have Effect on Halitosis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.  [Accessed 19 May 2022]

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