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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.

5. Rinse your mouth out.

Besides freshening your breath, anti-bacterial mouthwashes add extra protection by reducing plaque-causing bacteria. After eating, swishing your mouth with plain water also helps your breath by eliminating food particles.

6. Skip after-dinner mints and chew gum instead.

Sugary candies promote the growth of bacteria in your mouth and add to bad breath problems. Instead, chew sugarless gum. "Gum stimulates saliva, which is the mouth’s natural defense mechanism against plaque acids which cause tooth decay and bad breath," Quinones says.

7. Keep your gums healthy.

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common cause of bad breath. Bacteria gather in pockets at the base of teeth, creating bad odors. If you have gum disease, your dentist may recommend a periodontist, who specializes in treating this condition.

8. Moisten your mouth.

Lack of saliva promotes tooth decay and can cause bad breath. If your mouth is dry, drink plenty of water during the day. Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy. Use a humidifier at night to moisten the air in your house. If nothing helps, talk to your dentist or even your doctor. Some medications can cause cotton mouth.

9. See your doctor.

If your bad breath continues despite your best efforts, see your doctor, who will check on whether it might be related to a medical condition.

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