Bad breath—everyone has it sometimes, but what causes it? And what do you do when it becomes more than occasional?
Bad breath occurs when your mouth’s bacteria break down proteins in mucous and food resulting in the release of sulfur compounds. Sweets and dairy products are the worst “inside the mouth” offenders. But odors from foods like onions and garlic can make their way to your lungs and cause bad breath as well. You should also be aware that anything that dries out your mouth might make bad breath worse. This can include your medications since many have dry mouth as a side effect. Using tobacco in any form contributes to bad breath, as well as making it more likely you will have dental problems such as gum disease.
First, see your dentist to make sure your mouth is healthy. Persistent bad breath is one sign of gum disease. If you have gum disease, you will have pockets between your teeth and gums that fill up with food, plaque and bacteria. Cavities in teeth can also catch food and plaque. As this “stash” breaks down, it releases sulfur compounds. Treating your gum disease or cavities will often reduce bad breath. If you smoke or chew tobacco, quitting will not only help your breath, it will help reduce your risk of other diseases. Your dentist will also ask for a health history that may highlight medical conditions that contribute to bad breath. If this is the case, you will be referred to a medical doctor for follow up.
Once your mouth is healthy, anything that increases your saliva will help your bad breath. Try to stay hydrated. Plain water (rather than the flavored varieties) is the best for counteracting bad breath. Green tea contains polyphenols that have been shown to reduce sulfur compounds; however, adding milk or sugar to the tea increases bacterial activity in your mouth and decreases its effectiveness. Mint tea has been shown to be quite effective at neutralizing garlic oils.
Fibrous vegetables or fruits are also helpful for increasing your saliva, and their firmness will scrape some plaque off your teeth. Fruits have natural sugars in them so vegetables, such as cucumbers or celery, are slightly better choices. Parsley, which is often used as a garnish, also seems to have some anti-bad-breath properties when it is chewed.
Chewing sugar-free gum or using sugar-free mints are also good ways to increase your saliva. Look for ones that contain xylitol or sorbitol. As a plus, recent studies have indicated that xylitol might also reduce your cavity rate. Be careful not to overuse them, however, since these sugar alcohols can upset some people’s digestive systems.
You may be tempted to turn to mouthwashes to help with your bad breath. Some mouthwashes merely mask the problem and do not do anything to help it. Choose one with antibacterial properties to help temporarily reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth or choose one specially formulated for relief of dry mouth.
You should also make sure you are brushing and flossing correctly. You should brush at least twice a day for about 4 minutes each time. Floss once a day, making sure you are keeping the floss tight against your tooth and taking the floss below the gum. You may also want to clean your tongue with your toothbrush, a tongue brush or tongue scraper. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties and some experts recommend placing a drop at the back of your tongue. (Tea tree oil is not recommended if you are pregnant or breast-feeding since it has not been tested for safety in these situations.) If you are not sure how to brush or floss, ask your dentist or hygienist.
NOTE: the information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
If you do not have a dentist, please contact my office at 440-960-1940 or by using the contact form on my website www.drjrobb.com You can also interact with Dr. Robb on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/drjenniferrobb Dr. Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.