The date’s gone well, your jokes have been funny and it’s soon time for that all-important first kiss.

But that age-old worry is never far away – does my breath smell?

Bad breath can be a real mood killer, annoying everyone from colleagues to fellow commuters and frightening away potential mates.

And while many of us believe a quick breath check – blowing into the palms of the hands and sniffing – is enough to detect an unpleasant odour, experts warn this method is actually ineffective.

Instead, they advise licking the back of your wrist or touching a spoon against the tongue for a truer measure of freshness.

Here, they reveal the most effective ways of identifying bad breath, and how to get rid of it once and for all…

Bad breath, known medically as halitosis, is caused by bacteria in the mouth breaking down food and releasing foul-smelling sulphur compounds


‘Breathing into the palm of your hand doesn’t always work, as you only really get the smell of your hands and it has to be really bad,’ says Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling Dental Group and an Oral B smile director.

Instead, she says licking the back of the wrist, waiting until the saliva dries and then smelling it will give a better indication.

‘It’s a way to isolate the saliva. If you have bad breath the saliva will smell.

‘Bacteria in the mouth break down food and make sulphur compounds which is what produces the pong,’ she explains.

The smell of breath might change throughout the day, so it’s best to check up to three or four times over the course of 24 hours, she said.

Another method is to lick the back of a spoon and once again wait for the saliva to dry, then smell it again.

Looking at the tongue can be a good measure of the mouth’s cleanliness.

‘If the tongue is covered in a white coating it means you’re not quite right. There are some people that naturally have a whiter tongue,’ Dr Okoye said. A pink and shiny tongue, on the other hand, is a sign of good oral health.

But flossing and then smelling the floss, although a little grimy, is the best indicator of whether a person’s breath smells, she added.

Lastly, she says asking someone you trust to tell you whether your oral aroma is less than rosy is probably the best test.

Although, she admits there are pitfalls with this method.

‘Quite often I get people people booking a tooth-whitening session for their friend or relative – and paying for it.

‘But really, it’s because they don’t have the heart to tell them they’ve got bad breath and they want me to bring it up.’

Cupping the hands and blowing into them is not a good way of identifying bad breath, dentists say


A third of people are unaware a strict diet or an intense workout can have can cause bad breath, according to research by CB12 – a brand of dental products that claims to keep breath fresh for 12 hours.

Dr Luke Thorley, a dentist and spokesperson for CB12, said over-exercising leads to dehydration.

This exacerbates bad breath as it means less saliva is formed to clean the mouth of plaque.

‘Skipping breakfast could be another unpleasant breath trigger, as eating first thing helps stimulate saliva that has been depleted while we sleep – hence the term “morning breath”’, he told MailOnline.

Any diets which cause the body to break down fat also cause a phenomenon known in nutrition circles as ‘camel breath’, he said.

He told MailOnline ‘If you’re following a low carbohydrate diet such as Atkins your body may be in a state of ketosis (a metabolic state where most of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood) resulting in an unpleasant mouth odour.’

And any action that causes dehydration, or changes the pH balance of the mouth, can cause bacteria to thrive.

Therefore, flying on a plane, drinking coffee or alcohol can all cause bad breath.

‘Flying off for your summer holidays can also affect breath as the change in air pressure and moisture may reduce the activity of the salivary glands,’ Dr Thorley explains.

‘Therefore less saliva is produced which creates the perfect environment for bacteria capable of causing unpleasant odour in the mouth to proliferate.

‘Having a glass of wine or a cocktail is another little-known contributor to unpleasant breath as drinking alcohol changes your mouth’s environment, drying out your mouth and allowing bacteria to thrive.’

Eating sugary snacks also provides bacteria with easily accessible fodder to eat, which they eat, break down, and release more foul-smelling sulphur particles, he added.

Finally, he warns a person’s caffeine hit may be the cause of their halitosis.

He said: ‘We’ve all experienced coffee breath, but what many of us don’t realise is that it isn’t just the coffee that creates odour.

‘Coffee is a diuretic, which means that it dehydrates the mouth by slowing your saliva production.’


Horrified at their mouth odour, many people immediately reach for the mints.

But this can create a vicious cycle in which they eat more sugar, which creates more bacteria and more bad breath.

And then they eat even more mints, exacerbating the problem, Dr Okoye said.

While chewing gum and mints might be good emergency options, they mask the smell, rather than treating the cause of the problem, she added.

Sugary snacks can cause halitosis as sugar provides excellent fodder for odour-causing bacteria in the mouth


But while the suggestions outlined above work in the short term, only good oral hygiene will treat the problem long term, Dr Okoye said.

For most people, doubling the amount of water they drink would immediately cure their bad breath, she added.

And maintaining good brushing and flossing habits is almost certainly the best route to a fresh mouth.

This involves brushing teeth regularly, ideally after every meal, including brushing the tongue, Dr Okoye said.

‘There are lots of nooks and crevices on the tongue where bacteria can hide,’ she added.

Flossing is extremely important, she said.

‘Brushing alone won’t get rid of the bacteria between the teeth, so I can’t say it enough times; you need to floss,’ Dr Okoye said.

Sometimes people who have good oral health still have bad breath, and in that case it might be that there is bacteria underneath a crown or filling, or they have a cavity, she said.

A good hygienist should be able to check for this.

And if, despite the mouth appearing healthy, a person still has halitosis, it could be due to a medical issue.

‘It could be due to acid coming up from the stomach,’ she said. And in that case the person should see their GP.

‘But a GP won’t want to see you unless you’ve ruled out all the mouth issues first.’