Bad breath, also called halitosis, is generally caused by a buildup of bacteria or debris inside the mouth. For some people, this odor-causing buildup occurs on the back portion of the tongue. However, it is not always clear why this tongue buildup occurs.
Possible causes of tongue-based bad breath may be due to postnasal mucus dripping from the nose to the throat, which forms a whitish coating. This coating often contains many different forms of bacteria which may thrive on the tongue’s rough surface and cause unpleasant odors in the mouth. The back portion of the tongue is especially susceptible to bacterial overgrowth, as this area is relatively dry. The lack of saliva combined with the tongue’s natural grooves and fissures can trap food particles, dead cells, and mucus from the nasal cavities. As a result, this environment can quickly become a medium for bacterial growth.
According to Dr. Harold Katz, “nearly 90 percent of endogenous bad breath that is not caused by digestive upsets or metabolic diseases like diabetes is actually due to noxious bacterial buildup on your tongue.” Tongue bacteria demonstrate a distinctive, smelly odor because of volatile sulfuric compounds and polyamines. This coating can develop on the back of your tongue even if you otherwise practice good oral hygiene, especially in individuals with allergies or certain infections like thrush. Although most people brush their teeth daily and floss, few are aware that it is just as essential to clean your tongue as it is to clean your teeth and gums.
To combat bad breath from your tongue, look at your tongue in the mirror to see it if has a coating or an unusual (white) color. If you notice anything suspicious, see your healthcare provider, as he or she can treat any illness involving chronic postnasal drip that may be causing a bacterial coating. Also, make sure to visit your dentist for regular cleanings and exams and to maintain a good oral-hygiene routine of brushing your teeth and tongue, flossing, and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash every day.