The causes of bad breath can range from simply what you eat to oral health problems that require a dentist’s care.

Do you suffer from bad breath? Would you know it if you did?

Whether you call it bad breath, halitosis or oral malodor, worrying about your breath is an unpleasant feeling one that nobody likes talking about. According to the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs, 50 percent of the adult population has had chronic bad breath at some point in their lives.

But what causes it? And can it be cured?

There are a number of possible causes for bad breath, ranging from harmless to serious. The most obvious offenders are the foods we eat. Sure, foods like garlic or onions can be smelly, but if you don’t brush and floss daily, any food can be the cause of bad breath. That’s because the major cause of bad breath is bacteria that consume the food particles left in your mouth after eating. In the process of doing this, they produce bad-smelling compounds that result in bad breath. The longer you wait to remove those particles, the more likely it is that your breath will stink.

Most of the bacteria in the mouth responsible for bad breath hang out on the back of the tongue. Your first line of defense should be to make sure you brush two times a day for two minutes and floss once a day. It also helps to brush your tongue to dislodge the bad breath bacteria.

Another culprit of bad breath is dry mouth, a condition that occurs when the flow of saliva decreases. Dry mouth can be caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or simply by breathing through the mouth. Consider chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies to help stimulate salivary flow. There also are artificial salivas on the market that may help.

Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can also be a warning sign of gum disease, which is caused by plaque. In this case, your dentist would need to treat you to bring your gums back to their healthy state.

Most of the bacteria in the mouth responsible for bad breath hang out on the back of the tongue.

Finally, bad breath that doesn’t respond to any treatments may be a sign of a serious medical disorder. Some systemic conditions, including diabetes, liver and kidney diseases, produce symptoms related to mouth odor. Tonsil stones, sinus or lung infections may also play a role in bad breath.

If you already practice good oral hygiene but still don’t know what’s causing your bad breath, make an appointment to see a dentist. They can work with you to develop a treatment plan that minimizes odor. This might include scraping the plaque off your tongue, using a special antibacterial mouth rinse or both.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential. When choosing oral care products, look for those that display the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance, your assurance that they have met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. For more information about taking care of your mouth and teeth, visit MouthHealthy.org, the American Dental Association’s website just for patients

Clifford Whall, Ph.D., is the director of the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance program, which began in 1930 and is regarded as the gold standard when it comes to evaluating the safety and efficacy of dental products.