The Tongue’s Influence on Bad Breath

Bad odors often emanate from the mouth of many people. As much as 90% of these odors come from the mouth rather than other causes according to research studies. The tongue is often the source for this halitosis (bad breath). The back of it harbors bacteria caused by a variety of reasons. These bacteria are what create the foul smell of halitosis.

A Coating on the Tongue

The back part of the tongue accumulates food debris, bacteria and other elements that create a coating. This coating will vary as to its makeup and size depending on the eating and oral hygiene habits, and oral health of the person. The color and thickness can also vary. This information is in a research study performed by Yaegaki and Sanada in 1992.

Many measuring techniques came about over the years to make it easier to evaluate the coating on the tongue, and to figure it role in bad breath. In two of the studies, the oral cause was mainly the tongue. Delanghe did one study in 1996 where the tongue was 37.3% of the oral causes for bad breath. Quirynen did another study in 2009 in which the tongue coating ranked 51.4% of the oral causes for halitosis.


Certain chemical compounds produced by the bacteria on the tongue help cause bad breath. The devices used in studies such as the Halimeter and gas chromatograph detect these chemical compounds. The later is able to detect far more compounds than the Halimeter, but is more difficult and expensive to use. The Halimeter is ideal for picking up the various sulfur compounds. It is easy and inexpensive to use.

Sulfur Compounds

Bacteria thrive in the mouth off dead skin cells, food debris and even the plaque on teeth. These bacteria emit sulfur compounds as it grows and spreads. This goes for the bacteria anywhere in the mouth including the tongue. These sulfur compounds are a main reason for the breath to develop a foul odor. The primary ones of these compounds are:

  • Hydrogen sulfide that appears in the largest quantity
  • Methyl mercaptan that appears in a moderate amount in bad breath
  • Dimethyl sulfide which shows up in small quantities

The Halimeter measures the amounts of these sulfur compounds for researchers, dentist or other health professionals. It is an inexpensive tool used to analyze the severity of bad breath for either informational purposes or medical diagnosis of a person’s problem.

Problems Bad Breath Causes

Bad breath does not cause an individual permanent physical damage unless an underlying medical condition causes it and goes untreated. However, halitosis creates a social problem for those who suffer from it. People do not like talking to those with bad oral odor. They will start avoiding those individuals as much as possible. Eventually, a simple remedy of mouthwash is not enough to mask the halitosis when the coating of the tongue remains in place breeding bacteria. The halitosis suffering then needs further treatment to get rid of the problem.

Treatment for Bad Breath Caused by the Tongue Coating

Tongue scraping is a treatment a dental professional uses for remedying bad breath caused by the tongue coating. This teamed with proper oral hygiene goes a long way to preventing halitosis. A person needs to take care of his or her overall health in addition to these things.