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Who hasn't had a moment of less-than-lovely breath? Bad breath, or halitosis, can get in the way of your social life and make you self-conscious and embarrassed. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to get a fresh mouth.

1. Brush and floss more frequently.

One of the prime causes of bad breath is plaque, the sticky buildup in your mouth that harbors bacteria. Food caught between teeth adds to the problem. All of us should brush at least twice a day and floss daily. If you're concerned about your breath, brush and floss a little more often. But don't overdo it. Brushing too aggressively can wear down enamel, making your teeth more vulnerable to decay.

2. Scrape your tongue.

The coating that normally forms on the tongue can host foul-smelling bacteria. To get rid of them, gently brush your tongue with your toothbrush. If it's too big to comfortably reach the back of your tongue, try a tongue scraper. "They're designed specifically to apply even pressure across the surface of the tongue area, removing bacteria, food debris, and dead cells that brushing alone can’t remove," says hygienist Pamela L. Quinones, past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

3. Avoid foods that sour your breath.

Onions and garlic are the prime offenders. Unfortunately, brushing after you eat them doesn't help. "The volatile substances they contain make their way into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs, where you breathe them out," says dentist Richard Price, a spokesman for the American Dental Association. The only way to avoid the problem is to avoid eating them, especially before social or work occasions when you're mindful of your breath.

4. Kick the habit.

Bad breath is just one of many reasons not to smoke. Smoking damages gum tissue and stains teeth. It also makes you more likely to get oral cancer. Over-the-counter nicotine patches can help tame the urge. If you need a little help, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about quit-smoking programs or prescription medications that can help you give up tobacco for good.

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