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Bad Breath: Good and Bad Foods

A combination of diet and dental hygiene is the best defense against bad breath.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Got bad breath? You may want to take a look at your diet.

If your dental hygiene is great -- you brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and clean your tongue -- your bad breath could be linked to your diet.

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Certain foods can taint your breath for hours and contribute to dragon breath in other ways. Here are some of the culprits:

Garlic and onions. "Garlic and onions top the list when it comes to halitosis," says Lisa Harper Mallonee, MPH, RD, associate professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry.

That's because the smelly sulfur compounds in garlic and onions linger in your mouth and are absorbed in the bloodstream and expelled when you exhale.

Coffee and alcohol. Coffee and alcoholic drinks create a favorable environment for oral bacterial growth.  They also have a drying effect, which reduces saliva flow and allows foul-smelling bacteria to linger longer.

Several other foods – including dairy products, a diet heavy in meat, orange juice, and soda – sometimes get talked about as bad breath triggers. Mallonee says she doesn’t have “any sound scientific evidence” about that.

Paul Vankevich, DMD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, agrees. Any food or drink, he says, could briefly cause breath odor if it's allowed to linger in the mouth. "This is insignificant and non-consequential," Vankevich tells WebMD in an email. Brushing your mouth and your tongue gets your good breath back.

Foods and Drinks That Make Your Breath Smell Good

Water.  This odor-free fluid helps flush from the mouth the bits of food bacteria feed upon. Drinking water promotes the production of saliva, which acts as a constant cleansing agent and dissolves stinky substances in food and drink.

Sugarless gum. Chewing gum loosens food and dead cells from the teeth, gums, and tongue and fosters saliva production.

Vankevich says sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol is particularly effective for fighting bad breath because xylitol inhibits mouth bacteria.

To get the full effect of chewing xylitol-sweetened gum, munch it for at least five minutes after meals, Mallonee recommends.

Fruits and vegetables. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as red bell pepper and broccoli, create an inhospitable environment for mouth bacteria. They work even better to fight bad breath when eaten raw, as crunchy produce of any kind is mechanically abrasive and helps to loosen trapped food particles.

Yogurt: Japanese researchers found that eating about 3 ounces of sugar-free yogurt with probiotic (good) bacteria twice a day for six weeks reduced bad breath by helping to lower the levels of odor-causing sulfide compounds. To best mimic the study's effects, eat yogurt that supplies strains of streptococci and lactobacilli bacteria.

"Fortified yogurt is also great source of vitamin D, which helps reduce mouth bacteria," Mallonee tells WebMD. Other sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and orange juice, salmon, and eggs.

Herbs and spices. Parsley contains chlorophyll, which may have a deodorizing effect in the mouth. Other plant products linked to better breath include cloves, anise, and fennel seeds. While employing herbs and spices to mitigate bad breath is rooted more in folklore than science, it doesn't hurt to try.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Answer:
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Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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