WebMD Health - Dental

Apr 16, 2010 4:55 PM

Change Your Breath From Bad to Good

We've all found ourselves chatting with someone whose breath could easily wilt a flower. With more than 90 million people suffering from chronic bad breath (also called halitosis), that's a lot of wilted flowers. If you (or someone you regularly smooch) has an attack of bad breath that even Altoids won't fix, try these eight simple tips to fix the problem.

Don't let your tongue become a dirty carpet.

Bad breath often strikes when people aren't properly taking care of their oral health. The odor is usually caused by decaying food particles and bacteria in your mouth. That's why brushing and flossing your teeth is so important, but don't forget to gently brush your tongue to get rid of even more bacteria.

A clean tongue goes a long way to warding off bad breath, says Stephen Z. Wolner, a dentist in private practice in New York City. "Your tongue microscopically is like a shaggy carpet. There are millions of filaments on your tongue that trap tiny food particles and bacteria," he says. Get in the habit of regularly cleaning your tongue using a toothbrush, the edge of a spoon, or a tongue cleaner. If you have any mouth guards or oral devices, make sure to clean them thoroughly before putting them back in your mouth.

Mouthwash isn't a bad idea, but it's only a temporary fix. Granted, a little mouthwash comes in handy before a romantic dinner for two, but it masks the odor instead of tackling the source of your problem.

Chew gum like it's going out of style.

Believe it or not, saliva is your best weapon against bad breath. That's why dry mouth, often caused by certain medications or medical conditions, leads to odor problems. By washing away food particles and bacteria, saliva helps to eliminate odor, too.

If you're wondering why your breath stinks in the morning, it's largely because saliva production slows while you sleep, allowing particles and odor to linger longer. That's where sugarless gum comes in handy, as chewing it will stimulate saliva production. Mints, on the other hand, don't usually stimulate saliva production and only temporarily mask bad odor.

"When you chew gum it makes you salivate, and the more saliva you have in your mouth the fewer bacteria you have. It not only mechanically washes bacteria out, but we have antiseptic and enzymes in our saliva that kill bacteria," says Wolner.

While anything that makes you salivate will improve your breath, a gum that is sweetened with xylitol is your best option. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that not only increases salvation but also works to prevent bacteria from replicating in the mouth.

Choose cinnamon -- it's sweeter.

A recent study of the cinnamon-flavored gum Big Red found that cinnamon might have breath-odor fighting abilities. Unlike other flavors, cinnamon is not just a cover-up, Wolner tells WebMD. In fact, he says, an ingredient in the flavoring appears to actually decrease the bacteria in your mouth. The only problem is that sugar gums are bad for your teeth, so stick to sugarless cinnamon-flavored gum instead.

Drink more water.

Wolner says the older you get the more likely you are to get dehydrated. You might not even notice you're thirsty, he says, so make drinking water a habit, because water will help keep the bacteria in your mouth to a minimum. Drinking water has a lot of health benefits, and preventing bad breath is one of them.

Rule out rare causes for bad breath.

While most bad breath can be banished with simple hygienic steps, there are times when dental or medical conditions might be the culprit. Make an appointment with your dentist if an unsavory odor takes residence in your mouth.

"If there is a persistent odor in your mouth, and you know it's not from the pasta you ate last night, see a dentist," Wolner tells WebMD. Your dentist will be able to pinpoint any cavities or decay, or even periodontal (gum) disease, that might be causing your bad breath.

Because on rare occasions bad breath can signal a larger problem, including infection, and even kidney or liver failure, you should also visit a doctor if your dentist doesn't find a cause for your bad breath problem.

Have a slice of bread.

If you're on one of the many popular low-carb diets, remember that bad breath or "ketone breath" is a potential side effect when you always have that burger sans bun. You can try different methods of masking the odor, such as gum or tart candies, but adding a few carbs to your daily diet might also do the trick.

Get a water pick.

You can't really clean your entire mouth with a toothbrush. "Using an irrigator or water pick cleans everything out around and under your gums and between your teeth," says Wolner. "If food lingers between your teeth where a toothbrush doesn't reach, it's fermenting." Next time you floss, take a whiff of your floss after you're done, and you'll have a good idea about what fermented or rotten food particles smell like.

Don't let bad breath go to your head.

If you think you have bad breath, get a second opinion. "A large proportion of people who think they're social pariahs with terrible breath don't have bad breath at all," says Wolner.

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