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Bad breath, or halitosis, isn't something to ignore. Those close to you would certainly agree.

Could bad breath be from poor dental hygiene, an underlying health problem, or simply the cook's heavy hand with the garlic? Regardless, you can take steps to prevent and treat halitosis, both at home and with the help of your dentist or doctor.

Causes of Bad Breath

Foods and beverages: What you eat and drink can cause bad breath. Foods are absorbed into your bloodstream and move to the lungs, affecting the air your exhale. Brushing or using mouthwash can briefly mask the odor. But halitosis lasts until the culprit is no longer in your body. Common offenders include:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cheese
  • Pastrami
  • Certain spices
  • Orange juice or soda
  • Alcohol

Likewise, dieters who may be eating too infrequently can also experience bad breath.

Dry mouth: Saliva is needed to cleanse the mouth. If you don't have enough of it, simply having a dry mouth can cause bad breath.

Poor dental hygiene: When you don't thoroughly clean your teeth, gums, and tongue each day, bad breath may result from remaining bits of rotting food and the growth of bacteria in your mouth. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) from poor dental hygiene can also cause bad breath.

Health problems: Sometimes bad breath can signal a larger health problem, such as:

  • Sinus infection
  • Chronic lung infection
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Diabetes

Preventing and Treating Bad Breath

There are a number of simple things you can try to get rid of bad breath.

  • Change what you eat and drink. Keep track of the foods you eat and try to:
    • Avoid foods and beverages that cause bad breath.
    • Eat more fruits and vegetables, and less meat.
    • Drink more water.
  • Suck on sugar-free mints if your mouth tends to get dry.
  • Avoid tobacco use of any kind.
  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. Make sure to reach the gum line as well as tooth surfaces.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • If you wear dentures, remove them while you sleep. Brush and soak them during the night in a disinfecting solution.
  • Clean braces and retainers as directed by your dentist.

Regular mouthwashes don't have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. But if you use one, swish it in your mouth for at least 30 seconds before spitting it out. Consider using an antibacterial mouth rinse (mouth rinses containing fluoride are also available). Such rinses reduce bacteria in the mouth that cause plaque and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.

When to See Your Dentist About Bad Breath

Be sure to see your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups and professional cleaning. Your dentist can spot and treat bad breath causes such as gum disease.

Ask your dentist about other potential solutions for halitosis. For example, for dry mouth, your dentist might recommend artificial saliva. Also talk to your dentist before buying halitosis kits or products for controlling bad breath.

If changes you make don't help, the dentist may refer you to a doctor to see whether an underlying health problem could be causing the bad breath. You can also go over a list of your medications with the doctor to see if any of them could be contributing to the problem. Or, if you use tobacco, get guidance from your doctor on ways to kick the habit.

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