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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, collect bacteria that cause bad breath.  Trapped food also adds to the problem.

Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. If you're concerned about your breath, do it 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. 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 it with your toothbrush.

If it's 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, 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 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 spokesman 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.

4. Kick the tobacco habit.

Besides causing cancer, smoking can damage your gums, stain your teeth, and give you bad breath.

Over-the-counter nicotine patches can help tame the urge. If you need a little help, make an appointment with your doctor to talk 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, mouthwashes add extra protection by getting rid of bacteria that can cause bad breath. Choose one that kills germs.

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.

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