What You Can Do About Bad Breath

From the WebMD Archives

Worried about bad breath? You're not alone. Forty million Americans suffer from bad breath, or halitosis, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association. Bad breath can get in the way of your social life. It can make you self-conscious and embarrassed. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to freshen your breath.

1. Brush and floss more frequently.

One of the prime causes of bad breath is plaque, the sticky build-up on teeth that harbors bacteria. Food left between teeth adds to the problem. All of us should brush at least twice a day and floss daily. If you're worried about your breath, brush and floss a little more often. But don't overdo it. Brushing too aggressively can erode enamel, making your teeth more vulnerable to decay.

2. Scrape your tongue.

The coating that normally forms on the tongue can harbor foul-smelling bacteria. To eliminate them, gently brush your tongue with your toothbrush. Some people find that toothbrushes are too big to comfortably reach the back of the tongue. In that case, try a tongue scraper. "Tongue scrapers are an essential tool in a proper oral health care routine," says Pamela L. Quinones, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association. "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."

3. Avoid foods that sour your breath.

Onions and garlic are the prime offenders. "Unfortunately, brushing after you eat onions or garlic doesn't help," says dentist Richard Price, DMD, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. "The volatile substances they contain make their way into your blood stream and travel to your lungs, where you breathe them out." The only way to avoid the problem is to avoid eating onions and garlic, especially before social or work occasions when you're concerned about 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 increases your risk of oral cancer. Over-the-counter nicotine patches can help tame the urge to smoke. If you need a little help, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about prescription medications or smoking cessation programs that can help you give up tobacco for good.

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5. Rinse your mouth out.

Swishing your mouth with plain water freshens your breath by eliminating food particles and stimulating saliva. Anti-bacterial mouthwashes may add extra protection by reducing plaque-causing bacteria.

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 tells WebMD.

7. Keep your gums healthy.

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common cause of bad breath. Bacteria accumulate 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 gum disease.

8. Be alert to dry 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, which helps stimulate saliva. Use a humidifier at night if the air is dry. If your mouth is still unusually dry, talk to your dentist or doctor. Dry mouth is a side effect of certain medications.

9. See your doctor.

If your bad breath continues despite your best efforts, see your doctor. Bad breath can be a symptom of medical conditions such as a sinus infection, postnasal drip from allergies, lung infections, diabetes, or liver or kidney diseases.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on February 21, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Leslie Seldin, DDS, spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Richard Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Pamela L. Quinones, RDH, president, American Dental Hygienists’ Association.

American Dental Association, "Bad Breath (Halitosis)" and "Diet and Tooth Decay."

American Dental Hygienists' Association: "Understanding and Eliminating Bad Breath."

Rosing, C, Brazilian Oral Research, September-October 2011.

Roldan, S. Journal of Periodontology, June 2005.

Malhotra, S. Journal of the Indian Society of Periodontology, July 2011.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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