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Oral Care

Good Solutions for Bad Breath

Why you (and just about everybody else) get bad breath -- and how to show it the door.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

There's an old saying that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. But add one more thing to the list -- bad breath. Just about everyone has had it.

"At least 50% of the adult population has bad breath at one point or another, and just about everyone has it in the morning,"says Andrew Spielman, DMD, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry.

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According to Spielman, 90% of bad breath is caused by bacteria, which break down food and salivary proteins in the mouth and, in the process, "release odorous compounds." Bacteria hide out on the tongue, which works much like Velcro to trap bad odors. Morning is the worst time because our mouths have been dry all night, giving bacteria plenty of time to work their smelly magic. 

Causes of Bad Breath

Food is a major cause of bad breath, but so is not eating enough. "Time intervals in between eating cause bacteria to accumulate in the oral cavity, and there's not enough saliva to produce the normal cleansing that occurs," Spielman says. Some drugs reduce levels of saliva too. An easy fix? Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking mints or candy can help combat dry mouth.

Bad breath isn't always what it seems. Once foods such as garlic and onion are metabolized by the liver, their odor is excreted in perspiration and from the lungs, rather than from the mouth. A bad odor coming from an exhale through the nose is a sign of something systemic, which affects the body as a whole and can indicate an underlying medical condition such as liver disease or diabetes.

Unlike death and taxes, you can do something about most cases of bad breath. "With good oral hygiene, this is absolutely controllable," Spielman says.

Bad Breath Prevention

Spielman offers some sure-fire ways to detect and cure bad breath:

Lick. We become accustomed to the smell in our own mouths and can't detect it, which is why blowing into your hand won't reveal the true quality of your breath. Instead, press your tongue (as far back as you can reach) against the back of your hand. Let the saliva dry for 10 seconds, then smell.

Scrape. Sixty percent of bad breath is due to plaque that accumulates in the tongue's folds, particularly toward the back. One of the best ways to clear it away is with a tongue scraper twice daily.

Rinse. Many common mouthwashes use alcohol to kill bacteria -- which is not the best ingredient, Spielman says. Instead, gargle once a day with a solution containing zinc chloride. An intense green or blue color is your clue to the right stuff.

Reviewed on December 23, 2009

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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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