8 Surprising Foods That Can Cause Bad Breath

Surprisingly, eating oranges can induce bad breath, aka halitosis.
Image Credit: Eva-Katalin/E+/GettyImages

While it's common knowledge that garlic and onions can cause funky breath, some other foods that make musky mouth odors might surprise you.

Indeed, "some of the most nutritious foods can also contribute to bad breath," Amrita Patel, DDS, of Broadway Cosmetic Dentistry, tells LIVESTRONG.com. That's not to say you should stop eating these healthy staples, but rather simply keep in mind they might mess with your breath so you can plan accordingly.

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Below, Dr. Patel discusses eight foods that cause bad breath, plus provides helpful tips on halting halitosis.

1. Meats

If you have dragon breath after a steak dinner, here's why: "Bacteria love the protein in meat," Dr. Patel says.

"As they break it down, ammonia compounds that cause bad breath are released," she explains.

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2. Fish

Ever noticed an unsavory scent coming from your mouth after eating tuna or salmon? "Fish causes bad breath because of compounds called trimethylamines, which, unless bound to some other liquid, can linger in the mouth and give off that 'fishy' smell," Dr. Patel says.

And canned varieties — which have time to oxidize — ramp up the stink factor. Not to mention that fish is full of protein, which we already know can lead to not-so-fresh breath.

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3. Dairy

Sure, milk may do a body good, but it can also make your breath reek. That's because "bacteria that you normally have in your mouth feed on the amino acids in milk and cheese, which causes bad breath," Dr. Patel says.

4. Coffee

Your morning cup of java just might be sabotaging your breath. "The high acid content of coffee, along with your oral bacteria's affinity for acid, is what causes bad breath," Dr. Patel says.

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Adding insult to injury, caffeinated beverages like coffee dry out your mouth, according to the National Institutes of Health. And when you have less saliva flowing, you create an ideal situation for foul-smelling bacteria and fungi to grow.

5. Citrus Fruit

While you might associate citrus with a fresh scent, these fruits might actually give you a stank mouth.

"Same as with coffee, the high acid levels in citrus fruits is a feasting ground for bacteria," Dr. Patel says. What's more, fruit contains sugar, which bad bacteria love to feed on.

6. Pasta Sauce

Similarly, "pasta sauce is another culprit of bad breath due to the acid in the tomatoes," Dr. Patel says. Again, an acidic environment essentially invites the growth of pesky bacteria that linger and bring on bad breath.

7. Peanut Butter

Hate to break it to you, but your beloved peanut butter could be the reason for your reeking breath. "Peanut butter has a lot of protein in it, but it's also very sticky and, thus, difficult for bacteria in your mouth to break down," Dr. Patel says.

Plus, if your PB is flavored or packed with sugar, it can supply even more of a meal for the meddling microbes in your mouth.

8. Horseradish

Horseradish — a root vegetable used in condiments, sauces and dressings — packs a pungent bite. Unfortunately, its distinctly powerful flavor also hangs around your mouth long after you've eaten it.

"These plants have a compound in them called isothiocyanate, which protects them from being eaten by animals, that gives them their strong taste and also causes breath changes," Dr. Patel says.

How to Combat Bad Breath

"If you are experiencing bad breath after eating these foods, the best way to counteract it is to clean your teeth after eating," Dr. Patel says. Brush with fluoride toothpaste and floss to remove food debris and bacteria.

"If brushing your teeth after a meal isn't an option, rinsing your mouth and sipping water may help," she adds.

Producing more saliva — which clears away food particles — is another strategy to sack the stinky breath, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). For example, chewing on sugarless gum can stimulate saliva flow. Even better, you choose a variety with the natural sugar alcohol xylitol, which may block some odor-causing bacteria.

Eating crunchy foods (think: carrots and apples) can also generate more spittle.

A swig of mouthwash, which can help kill bacteria and temporarily mask malodorous breath, is another useful strategy to scrap the stench, per the ADA.

Tip

But if your smelly breath persists, talk to your dentist. Mouth odor can sometimes be an indicator of a deeper issue, such as gum disease or stomach ailments, which is why regular checkups and cleanings by your dental professional are essential, Dr. Patel says.

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