Millions of Americans—perhaps as many as 85 million—have chronically bad breath, or halitosis. Concern about halitosis has given rise to a billion-dollar-a-year industry of products that are intended to eliminate or conceal mouth odor.
You can even take advantage of one of hundreds of “breath clinics” being offered all over the country. But the most effective steps involve simple oral hygiene.
Symptoms of Bad Breath
- Exhaled breath has an unpleasant odor.
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Bleeding gums
What Causes Bad Breath?
Bad breath has many causes, but often the underlying cause is the activity of bacteria in the mouth. Most cases of bad breath are due to the breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth, which can create foul-smelling gases. If you have healthy teeth and gums but still experience bad breath, it usually comes from the back region of the tongue, possibly because of postnasal drip to the tongue surface.
Periodontal disease (inflammation of the gums) can also cause bad breath, as can a dry mouth, which contributes to halitosis because saliva helps keep bacteria in check. This helps explain “morning breath,” since the mouth dries out during sleep. Mouthwashes with a high alcohol content can also dry the mouth, allowing bacteria to thrive. And certain medical conditions and medications can cause chronic dry mouth, or xerostomia.
Halitosis can also be caused by certain respiratory or gastrointestinal disorders as well as diabetes mellitus, chronic sinusitis or bronchitis, a liver or kidney ailment, and emphysema.
Other contributing factors include smoking, alcoholic drinks, and such foods as garlic and onions, which contain volatile oils that are absorbed into your bloodstream, carried to your lungs, and released in your breath.
What If You Do Nothing?
Most cases of bad breath are temporary, and if a particular food contributed to it, then the problem will clear up when you stop eating that food. But if you often have bad breath, you’ll need to take stronger measures like the self-care remedies that follow.
Home Remedies for Bad Breath
Mints and mouthwashes will only temporarily quell bad breath; they cannot cure the underlying problem. Instead, take these measures.
- Brush more frequently. Brushing your teeth after each meal will improve most cases of mild bad breath. When you’re finished with your teeth, gently scrub the roof of your mouth and your gums.
- Clean your tongue. This can be one of the most effective steps for eliminating bad breath. The tongue’s microscopic hairs harbor plaque and food particles that can give rise to breath-fouling bacteria. In fact, the tongue can become coated with bacteria that ferment proteins and give off unpleasant odors. Therefore, brush the surface of the tongue when you finish with your teeth in order to dislodge the culprits, or else use a special plastic tongue scraper, sold in most pharmacies.Choose a brush with soft bristles; stroke from the rear of the throat (as far back as you can go without gagging) and gently brush outward. For better results, wet your brush with an effective mouthwash.
- Floss. Clean the spaces between your teeth at least once a day.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C. Eating one fruit rich in vitamin C such as lemons, oranges and sweet limes after every meal can prevent bad breath. It can also make the teeth healthier.
- Get regular dental checkups. Have your teeth examined and cleaned periodically by your dentist and/or a dental hygienist.
- Make a gargle rinse using dried pomegranate peels in water that has been boiled and then cooled. This remedy also can help treat mouth ulcers.
- Take care of dentures. Soak your dentures overnight in an antiseptic solution.
- If you smoke, quit. In addition to being linked with lung and other cancers, tobacco is a major cause of bad breath.
- Chew on dried coriander leaves. This is an effective remedy to bad breath caused by eating garlic and onions.
- Drink more water. Keeping your mouth moist will help disperse the bacteria living there. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily.
- Chew a piece of licorice or cardamom.
- Avoid foods that trigger bad breath. There are many common spices and foods that can cause bad breath. Obvious culprits include anchovies, garlic, onions, and anything containing alcohol.
- Drink unsweetened herbal tea..
Mouthwashes, also called mouth rinses, have been around for centuries; the oldest of all is plain water. The great majority of nonprescription mouth rinses are simply breath fresheners—they have little effect against plaque (the thin film on teeth where decay-causing bacteria live), and they don’t prevent gingivitis (the early stage of periodontal disease).
- If you simply want temporary breath freshening, nearly any mouthwash will do. The effect lasts up to half an hour.
- Don’t overuse rinses. A tablespoon or two should do. Swish it around in your mouth for about 30 seconds. Never swallow rinses. Don’t eat or drink for half an hour after use.
- No mouthwash or other breath freshener can take the place of thorough flossing and brushing, as well as semiannual visits to the dentist.
Follow the measures listed above.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
If your bad breath does not respond to the measures suggested above, contact your dentist to see if gum or tooth disease is the culprit. Also contact your dentist if your bad breath is accompanied by tooth pain. This may signal a cavity, a lost filling, or an abscess. If you have bad breath and your gums bleed often after brushing, this can be a sign of gum disease.
What Your Doctor Will Do
After taking a careful history to determine the possible causes of the odor, your dentist may recommend a mouthwash that has been shown to be effective in fighting bad breath. If the problem can’t be traced to a tooth or gum condition, particularly if you are maintaining good oral hygiene, then you should see a physician to check on the possibility of lung or gastric disorders or some other underlying medical condition.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media