90% of bad breath originates in the mouth because of factors such as poor oral hygiene and gum disease.
Bad breath is natural, but that doesn’t make it any less noxious. When bacteria break down food particles left on the surfaces of or between teeth, smelly compounds, such as sulfur, form that’s what leads to that funky whiff. Having a dry mouth can also lead to bad breath, because that means there’s not enough saliva to clear debris and reduce odor-causing bacteria.
Usually, bad breath isn’t cause for concern beyond a bit of embarrassment, but sometimes it may “indicate a dental infection or underlying problems such as diabetes, reflux, or kidney or liver disease, so work with your dentist or doctor to figure out the reason behind it,” says Theodora Danciu, D.M.D., D.M.Sc., a clinical professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.
Following these tips can help your breath fresh as well as keep your mouth healthy on a daily basis.
Here’s how to keep breath fresh.
BRUSH, FLOSS, REPEAT
Of course, brushing and flossing are among the best ways to ward off bad breath. Brush at least twice a day, and floss at least once—and always before bedtime. “You salivate less when sleeping, so debris left on teeth gives bugs a chance to feast overnight,” says Kay Jordan, D.D.S., an associate clinical professor at Louisiana State University School of Dentistry. Rinse your brush after each use and let it air-dry; replace it about every three months to prevent bacterial buildup.
FOCUS ON YOUR TONGUE
“Cleaning the tongue’s surface will help remove some of its microbial coating,” says Angelo Mariotti, Ph.D., D.D.S., a professor and chair of peri-odontology at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. With a paste-less toothbrush, trace a big X, then a straight line down the middle.
KEEP YOUR MOUTH MOIST
To help your mouth produce enough cleansing saliva, drink water throughout the day or suck on ice chips. If your mouth is already dry, chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva flow (and temporarily freshen breath).
TREAT IT – GO FOR CHECKUPS
Visit your dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning. This also gives you the chance to address issues that may lead to bad breath such as cavities, gingivitis (inflamed gums), and periodontitis (gum disease).
Rinsing with an over-the-counter mouthwash can temporarily freshen breath, especially if the product contains zinc; studies suggest that zinc chemically neutralizes sulfur gases and suppresses bacteria that produce them. Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol, which can be mouth-drying. For chronic dry mouth, try an OTC saliva-replacement spray or gel.
AMEND YOUR MEDS
Ask your doctor if any drug you’re taking is among the many that can cause dry mouth. If so, work together to adjust the dose or find a less drying alternative.