7 Ways to Prevent and Treat Bad Breath
Kiss halitosis goodbye with these expert-endorsed strategies
Worried your breath stinks? Join the club, says Jan Bourke, RDH, MS, a registered dental hygienist from Ohio State University’s College of Dentistry in Columbus. She says the question of how to avoid bad breath is the one she gets most often.
There’s no magic bullet to cure bad breath, but these tips should help sweeten the air you’re wafting someone else’s way.
Launch a plaque attack
Breath enemy #1 is plaque build-up. “The plaque on your teeth and in your mouth is biofilm,” explains Jodi Deming, RDH, a registered dental hygienist in Seattle. “Biofilm can cause tooth destruction, or cavities. Besides forming on your teeth, biofilm forms on the tongue and this can contribute to a bad odor from the mouth.”
An electric toothbrush may be best, says Tricia Vaughn, a hygienist at Bel Air Smiles in Forest Hill, Maryland, since it provides a more thorough cleaning. Change the brush head on an electric toothbrush every three months. Replace a manual toothbrush that often, too. Choose a soft-bristled one to spare your gums, says Vaughn.
Brush often. “Ideally, you’ll brush and floss three times a day,” says Edita Outericka, DMD, a dentist at Dynamic Dental in Mansfield, MA. At a minimum, brush in the morning and at night (aim for a full two minutes), and floss and brush your tongue once a day.
Master the angle
“It’s important to angle the brush at a 45-degree angle," says Vaughn, "because there is a pocket between the tooth and the gums, and if you angle it you can get into this pocket and get out any food or debris that can build up and cause bacteria." Brush with small circular movements, and avoid applying too much pressure.
Show your tongue some TLC
“Your tongue is a sponge, and if you don’t brush it, the film that is on your tongue will transfer to the mouth,” Vaughn says. “This means that the same bacteria that can affect your teeth and gums are also on your tongue and can create bad breath.”
Brushing the back of your tongue can cause gagging, especially if you press down too hard with the brush. You can still start in the back, but instead of pressing down, move the brush in a forward swiping motion toward the front of your tongue. Some people also find it hard to brush their tongue in the morning, but easier in the evening. A tongue cleaner or scraper, which is like a plastic mini-spatula, is another option.
Think of floss as your best friend
No matter how skilled you are at brushing your teeth, flossing is the only way to remove jammed-in food particles. To banish them, reverse your normal routine: first floss to loosen food debris, then brush, ideally after every meal. Can’t deal with floss? Try floss picks. Or invest in an electric air flosser, a device that sends bursts of air and water through a tip, forcing out debris, Outericka says.
Stimulate those salivary glands
A dry mouth creates bad breath because bacteria linger longer on the tongue and gums. Some people naturally have drier mouths. Certain medications, including antihistamines and antidepressants, can dry up the mouth, as can some health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
If it’s like the Sahara in your mouth, Bourke suggests talking to your dentist about using a dry mouth rinse such as Biotene. “These keep tissues of the mouth moist,” Bourke says. Unlike mouthwashes, some of which contain alcohol, which is drying, these rinses have glycerine or carboxymethyl cellulose and hydroxyethyl cellulose, thickening agents used in foods and pharmaceuticals that coat tissues to help maintain moisture, she says.
You can also chew gum, says Bourke. “Gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which keeps the mouth from getting dry. Saliva also is good for preventing tooth decay,” she says. Opt for sugar-free.
Get gum disease treated
If your efforts at staving off bad breath don’t work, and/or you see signs of bleeding when you brush or floss, tell your dentist or hygienist, Vaughn says. “This could be gingivitis, which is reversible with a good professional cleaning and good home dental care,” she says. “But if you don’t take care of it, it can turn into periodontal disease, which is not reversible
Look beyond your mouth
Bad breath isn’t always caused by oral health problems. It could be coming from your stomach, for instance, if you have acid reflux. When stomach acid splashes up into your esophagus, some stomach contents may splash up as well — carrying with it a less-than-pleasant smell. Curing the acid reflux may cure the bad breath.
Post-nasal drip from a cold or allergies can also foul the breath.
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Bad breath can also be produced by yellowish orbs in the tonsils known as tonsil stones or tonsillolith, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These stones become covered with bacteria that emit a foul smell.
Even diabetes can cause the breath to take on an unpleasant odor. If your breath stinks despite good oral hygiene and professional dental cleanings, talk to your doctor to rule out a medical cause.