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It's easy to improve your breath and keep your teeth and gums healthy at the same time. Try these simple steps to make your mouth feel fresh and clean.

1. Brush and floss more often.

Plaque, the sticky buildup on your teeth, collects bacteria that cause bad breath.  Trapped food also adds to the problem.

Brush your teeth at least two times each day, and floss at least once. If you're concerned about your breath, do both a little more often.

Don't overdo things, though. If you brush too hard you can wear down your teeth, making them vulnerable to decay.

2. Rinse your mouth out.

Besides freshening your breath, a mouthwash adds extra protection by getting rid of bacteria. A fresh minty taste can make you feel good. But be sure the mouthwash you choose kills the germs that cause bad breath. Don't just cover up the smell. Rinse daily with a good mouthwash and stop bad breath at its source.

You can also help your breath if you swish your mouth with plain water after you eat. It can get rid of food particles that get stuck in your teeth.

3. Scrape your tongue.

The coating that normally forms on your tongue can be a host for smelly bacteria. To get rid of them, gently brush your tongue with your toothbrush.

If your brush is too big to comfortably reach the back of your tongue, try a scraper. "They're designed specifically to apply even pressure across the surface of the tongue area. This removes bacteria, food debris, and dead cells that brushing alone can't  take care of," says hygienist Pamela L. Quinones, past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

4. Avoid foods that sour your breath.

Onions and garlic are big offenders. But brushing after you eat them doesn't help.

The substances that cause their bad smells make their way into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs, where you breathe them out, says dentist Richard Price, DMD, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

The best way to stop the problem? Don't eat them, or at least avoid them before you go to work or see friends.

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