The start of the new school year got us thinking: Is there anyone who didn’t have at least one teacher with an annoying habit or trait that to this day defines your memory of them? Maybe it was the math teacher who always spit a little when he talked, or the one who tapped her pen incessantly while you answered her questions in social studies, or the one who would pace the room with squeaky shoes and periodically lean over your shoulder to look at your work, treating you to a blast of horrible coffee-and-onion-infused breath.
You can still sort of smell it now, can’t you? Because chronic bad breath is pretty evil – the result of persistent oral microbes and their metabolic waste, especially the volatile sulfur compounds they produce (the stuff that makes rotten eggs smell so rotten). And as we noted before , research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology has shown that it’s not just a matter of “bacterial overgrowth due to poor oral hygiene.” In fact, “it’s not just the type of bacteria that matters but the balance of oral flora.”
The trick in stopping or at least controlling bad breath involves maintaining that balance. And just as there are many things that can cause it to get out of whack, there are many things you can do to make sure it doesn’t.
Recently, Dr. Margaret Mitchell of Chicago’s Mitchell Dental Spa sent out a tip sheet that makes for a pretty good guide to keeping the bad out of your breath. So here are their “10 easy tips for keeping bad breath at bay,” edited for length and clarity, and with our occasional comments added in bold.
Don’t Forget the Basics Step one in keeping your breath minty fresh is to follow the basic guidelines for the care and cleaning of your teeth and gums. This includes brushing after meals, flossing daily and scheduling bi-annual dental appointments. Anything from a rotting tooth to an abscess to unclean dentures can turn breath really nasty, and for more serious dental problems, it’s extremely important to seek professional treatment.
Face Facts Do friends constantly complain about your breath but you have no idea what they’re talking about? If you want to really make sure and avoid future embarrassment, there are easy ways of measuring your breath at home (besides cupping your hand and breathing into it!):
Wipe a piece of gauze on your tongue. If it has a yellow tinge or smells, you have high levels of sulfides in your body causing the bad breath.
Lick the back of your hand, then wait 10 minutes and smell it. If sulfur salts are present, they’ll remain and leave your hand smelling badly.
Floss your teeth, then smell the floss.
Get Your Fruit Fix Adding crisp fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and apples, to your daily intake helps clean your chops naturally by removing plaque and food particles from between your teeth and gums. Delicious and refreshing!
Mind Your Tongue Your tongue, especially the top back, is a serious source of halitosis. Bacteria love to linger on the back of this muscle, as food can easily get trapped and rot in the back of the mouth, causing odor. A great way to remedy this problem? Invest in a tongue scraper. It will save you a fortune on gum and mints.
Go Herbal Sipping natural remedies like black and green tea, as well as adding cardamom (an exotic Indian spice) to your foods, can alleviate bad breath naturally by zapping fungi that breeds in the mouth.
Kiss Atkins Goodbye Recent research has shown that diets low in carbohydrates can cause funky breath. This is caused by chemicals [ketones] released from the body burning fats in place of carbs, otherwise known as ketosis. With nowhere to go, these foul-smelling chemicals are released through your breath. Slight modifications to your meal plan, including switching out protein calories for carbohydrates if you are on a restricted-calorie diet, can help with this. [This applies only to extremely low-carb diets such as Phase 1 Atkins. More moderate low-carb diets may not send the body into ketosis. No ketones, no ketone-breath.]
Chew it Over Chomp on sugarless gum. The increase of saliva in the mouth created by chewing makes an unappealing environment for bacteria. Make sure it’s sugarless gum, though, since oral bacteria are apt to ferment sugar, thereby making your icky breathe even worse. While you’re at it, you might consider slashing sugar from the rest of your diet, as well, to freshen your breath. [Be aware, though, that constant gum chewing can cause TMJ and other pain problems , so we recommend it as an "only sometimes" thing. Also, don't be fooled by ads touting the "cavity-fighting" power of xylitol. While this sweetener does have anti-cavity properties, research suggests that the benefit may come more from the increased saliva flow than the xylitol.]
Flush it Out Avoid an uncomfortable, desert-dry mouth, as well as offending odors, by following this mantra: Water, water, water! As long as you stay continually hydrated, your mouth will release enzymes through saliva that wipe out bad bacteria. [ Learn more about dry mouth and how to prevent it. ]
Evaluate Your Medicine Cabinet If you can’t seem to pinpoint the source of your chronically foul fumes, you might want to search for the source in your medicine cabinet. Certain medicines such as blood pressure pills, anti-depressants and antihistamines contribute to dry mouth, and thus, a toxic taste. Ask your doctor for special mouthwashes and toothpastes that help alleviate dry mouth. [For more info, again see our previous post on dry mouth. ]
Get Physical But not in the Olivia Newton-John sense. If you’ve tried everything else, sometimes the only solution is calling up the doctor for a check-up. Bad breath can sometimes be a symptom of other health problems, including liver problems, diabetes and sinus infections.