Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a common condition. In fact, research shows that approximately 50% of adults experience it at least once. There are several potential causes of bad breath- most are temporary and can be resolved with proper oral hygiene.
However, if your bad breath is chronic and does not resolve, it may indicate issues with your oral health, including tooth decay/cavities or an underlying medical condition.
How Can Cavities Cause Bad Breath?
Cavities develop as a result of bacteria and plaque buildup. The bacteria feed on food debris and plaque that is on your teeth, causing the enamel to break down. This creates holes for decay to set in, which release volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs. The VSCs are what cause and contribute to your bad breath.
Does Having a Cavity Make Your Breath or Taste Bad?
While a cavity may contribute to halitosis, it is typically not the primary cause. In addition to bad breath, a cavity may also cause/contribute to a sour taste in your mouth.
Cavities, or tooth decay, are small holes that form in the tooth due to the breakdown of the enamel. This breakdown occurs when bacteria feed on food debris and plaque that are left on your teeth. As the bacteria feed, they produce acids that destroy the enamel.
It is important to note that not all mouth bacteria are harmful but may still cause a bad smell/taste. In some cases, the plaque can be the cause of bad breath or taste. Therefore, instead of the bad smell/taste coming from the cavity itself, it’s more likely caused by the bacteria.
A 2021 study on bad breath revealed that the accumulation of bacteria on the tongue may cause or contribute to bad breath.
In addition to cavities, there are a few other factors that may cause or contribute to your bad breath:
- Dry mouth
- Certain foods
- Oral infections
- Gum disease
- Orthodontic devices- traditional braces or clear aligners
- Medical conditions such as diabetes
- Smoking or tobacco use
- Acid reflux
- Post-nasal drip
- Kidney or liver disease
What Does a Cavity Smell Like?
Most people describe the odor associated with a cavity as being sulfur-like. However, it is important to note that the cavity itself is not what you smell. The odor is caused by the waste produced by the bacteria consuming the plaque and food debris left on your teeth.
What Happens to Untreated Cavity?
If left untreated, a cavity will continue to progress. Eventually, the decay will reach the pulp, or center of the tooth. This will require root canal treatment or extraction to get rid of the infection. If it continues to progress, the infection could spread to other areas of your body including your heart and brain- which can be life-threatening.
Getting Rid of Foul Breath Caused by Dental Cavity
One of the best ways to get rid of foul breath caused by cavities is with proper oral hygiene habits. In addition to reducing or eliminating bad breath, these habits can help reduce your risk of tooth decay. Proper oral hygiene includes:
- Brush at least twice daily
- Floss at least once daily
- Use an alcohol-free mouthwash that contains fluoride
- Limit your consumption of sugary/starchy foods and beverages
- Eat healthy foods that crunch such as carrots or apples
- Stay hydrated
- Chew sugar-free gum to prevent dry mouth
- Avoid smoking
In addition to the above, the American Dental Association recommends that you visit your dentist every 6 months for an exam and cleaning. This will help reduce and eliminate plaque and bacteria in your mouth, as well as detect and treat cavities early. Your dentist will also be able to make recommendations for dealing with chronic bad breath.
If you have a cavity, getting a dental filling may help reduce or eliminate bad breath.
Other Signs You May Have a Cavity
While bad breath might be a clue that you have a cavity, it’s not the only one. There are other signs/symptoms to look out for. Most of the time, there are no symptoms in the early stages of tooth decay, but as it progresses, you may experience:
- Tooth pain/sensitivity
- White or dark spots on teeth
- Abscess near infected tooth
- Facial swelling and other signs of infection