Whether it's a fleeting case of morning breath or a lingering bout with halitosis, everyone has bad breath sometimes.
Unfortunately, for as easy as it is to get bad breath, getting rid of it can be a lot more complicated. For some, employing a toothbrush, floss and mouthwash more frequently to remove plaque, the nearly invisible film of bacteria that contributes to bad breath, will do the trick. For others, a professional cleaning to remove stuck-on tartar, which is hardened plaque, will be necessary. Others still will discover that cavities and gum disease are at the root of their bad breath problems.
Occasionally, bad breath is due to something in the lungs or gastrointestinal tract, or to a systemic infection. Some health problems, such as sinus infections or diabetes, can also cause bad breath. And sometimes it just comes down to what you ate for dinner.
So what's the first step you should take to freshen your breath? Check out our 10 best tips, beginning on the next page.
Brush and Floss
Your mouth contains millions of bacteria. In fact, there are probably more bacteria colonized in your mouth than there are cells in your entire body. Of the some 700 kinds of bacteria that thrive in the mouth, scientists have identified and studied fewer than half -- which makes it difficult to know exactly how to combat the odors that all those bacteria give off as a byproduct when they digest their food.
Regardless, there are a few things you can do to beat the bad breath caused by germs. Start by keeping your mouth clean: Your food supply is their food supply. Although you can try to kill bacteria with mouthwash, this is only a temporary solution. The bacteria will grow back over time. Your best defense is to brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day, and floss once a day. This will help remove the food trapped between your teeth, as well as the food trapped in the gum line. Otherwise, both of these areas would provide breeding grounds for bacteria. If food particles are left to linger, bad breath is imminent [source: Gately].
Clean Your Tongue
Scientists suspect that some bacteria, particularly bacteria located on the top of your tongue closest to your throat, actually protect against foul-smelling breath. Other types of bacteria, however, produce a pungent odor as they multiply. What does this research mean for you? The type of bacteria most prevalent on your tongue could mean the difference between good and bad breath. Unfortunately, researchers don't yet know how to tip the bacterial balance so that you'll always have naturally sweet-smelling breath [source: Gately].
There is one simple thing you can do to help, though: Clean your tongue. The rough surface of the tongue is home to a potentially foul-smelling combination of dead cells, food debris, bacteria and the byproducts of bacterial digestion -- factors that all contribute to less-than-fresh breath. Be sure to brush your tongue with your toothbrush after you brush your teeth. Or, for a more effective scrubbing, use a tongue cleaner. This handheld device is designed to scrape the surface of the tongue and remove odor-causing debris from its surface [source: Bosy].
Wet Your Whistle
You've had a good night's sleep, a treasure topped only by the chance to awaken leisurely as the morning sun streams in through your bedroom window. As you stretch your arms and legs and decide finally to roll out of bed, you relish this perfect morning -- until you get a whiff of your own breath, that is.
Why is morning breath so awful? When you sleep, you produce less saliva than when you're awake (and therefore eating, drinking and speaking). Saliva contains oxygen, and oxygen deters the growth of bacteria [source: Dellorto].
Unfortunately, "morning breath" is a misnomer. Your mouth can become dry during the day, too. And a dry mouth -- whether it's at midnight or noon -- can quickly cause bad breath. You need plenty of saliva because it helps clean your mouth; it's naturally antibacterial, and it washes away food particles. Banish morning breath by brushing your teeth, cleaning your tongue and rinsing with mouthwash. To keep your saliva flowing throughout the day, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You also could stimulate saliva production by sucking on a mint or chewing gum, but these are only temporary solutions. Find out why on the next page.
Don't Rely on Mints
Relying on a mint to mask bad breath works about as well as using cologne to cover up body odor. It may work for a little while, but eventually the smell will break through. A mint or piece of chewing gum simply won't kill the bacteria that cause mouth odor. Plus, if the mint or gum contains sugar, it will act as a buffet for the bacteria your mouth. They will continue to rapidly reproduce and release the byproducts, such as volatile sulfur compounds, that cause bad breath [source: Dellorto].
It's also possible that your bad breath is caused by a medical condition, not just the bacteria in your mouth, and a mint definitely won't replace a visit to the doctor. Although mouth odor is often associated with gum disease or tooth decay, it can occasionally signal health problems such as respiratory or sinus infections, bronchitis, diabetes or malfunctions of the liver or kidney [source: Gazzaniga].
If checkups with your dentist and physician don't reveal an undiagnosed medical condition, and if you're cleaning your teeth and tongue on a regular basis, the culprit could be as close as your dinner plate. We'll explore some common foods that cause bad breath in the next section.
Know the Culinary Culprits
The foods you eat can exert a lot of influence on the way your breath smells. So, if you're one of the 90 million people in America who have bad breath, it's time to examine your dinner plate.
You probably expect some foods to give you bad breath, such as garlic or onions. But some bad-breath culprits may surprise you. Take meat, for example. Meat particles are known for sticking around, even after you've swallowed your bite of steak and washed it down with a gulp of water. These meat particles collect at the gumline, get stuck between teeth, and sometimes work their way under fillings or crowns -- and are especially attractive to reproducing bacteria.
High-protein and low-carb diets, while a possible boon to your waist size, aren't great for your breath. Eating fewer than 100 grams of carbohydrates a day triggers a condition known as ketosis, a metabolic state that causes your body to burn fat instead of sugar. Ketosis is notorious for causing bad breath [source: Gazzaniga, WebMD].
However, if you're committed to being a carnivore you can still freshen your breath by doing one simple thing with the world's most common liquid. Find out what in the next section.
Rinse After Eating and Drinking
What you drink can cause bad breath, too. Consuming an acidic beverage, including soda pop, coffee or alcohol, will release compounds into your bloodstream that will, in turn, release odors through your breath. Plus, acidic drinks lower the pH level in your mouth: A lower pH level allows bacteria to flourish and release volatile sulfur compounds, which smell similar to a rotten egg.
Even if you don't want to avoid your morning latte, you can still freshen your breath by doing one simple thing: Rinse your mouth with plain water after drinking it. This will help rebalance your mouth's pH levels. Rinsing with water also works after meals -- no matter what you've eaten. Swishing the water around may help remove some of the food particles left in the mouth after a meal and prevent bad breath from setting in [source: Dellorto].
Looking for more natural cures for bad breath? Explore nature-made breath fresheners on the next page.
Use Nature's Cures
If you're serious about combating bad breath, chase your meal with green tea or sip it throughout the day. Green tea helps keep your breath fresh because it has antibacterial compounds that fight the germs in your mouth. Up the ante by using a cinnamon stick to stir your tea; cinnamon has essential oils that fight stinky breath, too [source: Dellorto].
Mint, parsley, basil, cilantro and dill temporarily mask offending oral odors because they release scented essential oils when chewed or crushed. While these herbs offer a quick solution to rancid breath, they also contain high levels of chlorophyll that can provide long-term benefits.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize energy from light. It can also help neutralize internal body odors, thereby reducing the smells that emanate from the body -- including bad breath [source: Duke]. If you aren't interested in chewing on fresh herbs or steeping them to make a tea, you can ingest concentrated chlorophyll either as tablets or sublingual drops (which are drops placed under the tongue for absorption).
If you'd rather freshen your breath by filling your plate -- or your snack stockpile -- with smell-good foods, check out the next page (and keep your grocery list handy).
Eat to Smell Sweet
There are certain foods that smell good -- and that make your breath smell good, too. Take fruits high in vitamin C, for example. Melons, berries and citrus fruits such as oranges are packed with vitamin C, something that doesn't sit well with the bacteria in your mouth. Instead of continuing to reproduce, the bacteria will begin to die. And the more C-laden fruits you eat, the more oral germs you'll kill.
Other foods that help quell rancid breath include raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables. Celery, carrots and apples are all good options to munch after a meal because these fiber-packed foods will help remove any food that's stuck in your teeth. These foods also stimulate saliva, which is detrimental to bacteria [source: Gazziniga].
Raw apple slices may be a great way to end a meal and get your breath back on track, but there's one after-dinner ritual that's bad for your mouth. Learn more on the next page.
Skip the Cigarettes
If you're one of the 46.6 million Americans who still smoked cigarettes as of 2011, you've probably battled off-putting breath, too. Not only do cigarettes release a cocktail of chemicals into the mouth, but they also cause a host of other problems.
People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to experience oral infections and disease. In addition, they often have a plaque buildup on their teeth, and plaque is an ideal place to harbor odor-causing bacteria. Plus, smoking tends to dry out the mouth. A dry mouth is an oxygen-depleted mouth, which provides the perfect environment for anaerobic bacteria to thrive. Although they don't typically inhale smoke into their lungs, pipe and cigar enthusiasts face similar risks [source: Centers for Disease Control].
Regardless of your smoking habits (or lack thereof), there's one thing that's essential to the health of your teeth and gums. Read more on the next page.
Visit Your Dentist
You haven't eaten garlic in six months, you've given up acidic drinks and you end each meal by eating a raw apple instead of a sugary dessert. But you still have bad breath, and you're still wondering what to do about it.
Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of persistent bad breath is also one of the most overlooked: a lack of regularly scheduled visits to your dentist. The American Dental Association recommends that children and adults have a professional cleaning regularly. For most, twice a year should suffice. For others who experience tartar buildup more quickly, four times a year may be necessary.
The professional cleaning process not only removes tartar form the teeth, which if untreated could lead to periodontal disease, but it also can identify any infected areas that need treatment [source: American Dental Association]. By getting to the root of the problem, you can ensure fresher breath, too.
What in the world do you wipe with when you're totally out of toilet paper? You can try one of these alternatives.
- American Dental Association. "Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums." (Jan. 16, 2012) http://www.ada.org/3072.aspx?currentTab=1
- Bosy, Ann. "Cleaning the Tongue." Breath Doc. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.breathdoc.com/articles/tong101.html
- Dellorto, Danielle. "Bad Breath? Break Free -- and How to Tell a Friend." CNN. Feb. 14, 2011. (Jan 14, 2012) http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/02/13/bad.breath.remedies/index.html
- Duke, James. "The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World's Foremost Authority on Healing Herbs." St. Martin's Pub. 1998. (Jan. 14, 2012)
- Gately, Gary. "Bad Breath and the Battle of Bacteria." ABC News. Aug. 30, 2011. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Dental/story?id=119221#.Tw9CPphrWS1
- Gazzaniga, Marin. "Bad Breath Causes: Poor Dental Health Common Culprit." MSN. (Jan. 14, 2012) http://health.msn.com/health-topics/oral-care/bad-breath-causes-poor-dental-health-common-culprit
- Gazzaniga, Marin. "Good Taste: Top 5 Foods to Prevent Bad Breath." MSN. (Jan. 14, 2012) http://health.msn.com/health-topics/oral-care/good-taste-top-5-foods-to-prevent-bad-breath
- Janzen, Jen. "How to Cure Bad Breath." Fox News. Oct. 9, 2011. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/10/09/how-to-cure-bad-breath/
- WebMD. "High Protein, Low Carb Diets." (Jan. 14, 2012) http://women.webmd.com/guide/high-protein-low-carbohydrate-diets
- WebMD. "The Sweet Smell of Success: How to Banish Bad Breath." Nov. 21, 2001. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/news/20011121/sweet-smell-of-success-how-to-banish-bad-breath