If Your Tongue Looks Like This, You Have Terrible Breath

If you see this on your tongue, it's time to freshen up, doctors say.

Having bad breath is almost always an embarrassing experience–and unfortunately not an uncommon one. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), roughly 50 percent of adults in the United States have experienced chronic bad breath, or halitosis, at some point in their lives. The worst part is that it can be hard to self-diagnose bad breath without someone else informing you that you have it. And that in itself is such an awkward conversation for both parties that it's often avoided altogether. There is, however, one surefire way to tell if your breath is anything but fresh smelling. All you have to do is look at your tongue.

"[Halitosis] is a condition caused by bacteria that builds up on the posterior dorsal surface of the tongue, and it's very hard to get rid of—you have to keep your tongue clean," the late George Preti, PhD, a research scientist who specialized in human body odors at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Dollar Shave Club. "I've seen some people complaining of bad odor from their mouth, and the back of their tongue looks like it's got cream cheese on it. That's how bad the plaque is."

In addition to checking your tongue to see if it has a white film, to successfully treat bad breath, it's important to understand how you get it in the first place. With that said, here are four of the most common causes of your bad breath. And for one bad-breath remedy you should avoid using, check out If You Use This Mouthwash, Get Rid of It Right Now.

Your diet

garlic press and garlic

You've certainly heard the expression, "You are what you eat." Well, that's especially true when it comes to your breath.

"The breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth can increase bacteria and cause a foul odor," the Mayo Clinic says. "Eating certain foods, such as onions, garlic, and spices, also can cause bad breath. After you digest these foods, they enter your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs and affect your breath." And for more about your mouth, check out What Your Tongue Could Tell You About Your Heart Health.

Poor oral hygiene

woman, toothbrush, toothpaste, scrub, closeup, horizontal, background

It may be obvious, but not everyone practices good dental hygiene, which unsurprisingly results in bad breath. Do yourself a favor and follow the ADA's recommendations: "Brush twice a day and clean between your teeth daily with floss to get rid of all that bacteria that's causing your bad breath." And for more on how your oral hygiene affects the rest of your body, check out 13 Warning Signs Your Teeth Are Trying to Send You.

Dry mouth

Close up of young man pouring fresh water from kitchen sink. Home interior.

If your mouth feels like a desert more often than not, you may have a condition called xerostomia, or dry mouth. According to the ADA, it's a common condition in which your salivary glands aren't producing a sufficient amount of saliva, which causes, among other things, noticeably unpleasant breath. And for more helpful information delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.


pills spilling out of a container

Often times, taking a particular medication can "indirectly produce bad breath by contributing to dry mouth," the Mayo Clinic says. If you take any medications, talk to your doctor about this potential side effect and what you should do to counteract it. And for one medicine to avoid entirely, check out This Commonly Prescribed Drug Has Just Been Recalled.

Filed Under