It's embarrassing when someone points out that you have bad breath or politely offers a mint with a knowing smile. There is very little you can do but apologise and swallow that mint with your pride. But if you are a little better prepared, you can avoid such awkward situations in the future.
Much like any bodily odour, halitosis can be tackled with hygiene and knowledge. So let's start at the beginning by talking about what causes bad breath, and how you can check if you have it. Then we'll talk about what works (and what doesn't).
What Causes Bad Breath
The most common reason that anyone suffers from halitosis is a dry mouth. A dry mouth occurs because you haven't been drinking enough water or you have been sleeping or travelling, in which case your body slows down the production of saliva. A dry mouth leads to dead cells on your tongue, which bacteria break down — this process emits a foul odour that we commonly know as bad breath.
Bad breath is usually caused by your tongue, although the same process of bacteria breaking down dead cells and food bits can occur in other parts of your mouth, like with food stuck in your teeth.
If you aren't brushing your teeth carefully, the same bacteria will build up on your teeth and emanate an odor again.
The other common reason for bad breath is the food you eat. We are all too familiar with garlic or onion breath, or the odour of a smoker. Also, crash-dieting and fasting can cause bad breath as the body breaks down fat and releases ketones, which can be smelled, says the UK's National Health Service.
These aren't the only causes, of course. There are medical conditions that can cause bad breath, like xerostomia (dry mouth caused by medication or mouth-breathing), throat and lung infections, kidney or liver diseases, diabetes and more. If you have any of these or suspect you do, it's best to consult a doctor, but with common bad breath, most of the solutions in this article should get you through.
How to Check If You Have Bad Breath
The first step to battling the social embarrassment of bad breath, of course, is knowing you have it before someone points it out. So how do you do that?
Like we already said, bad breath usually starts with your tongue, so that's the first point to check. For a visual check, a pink and shiny tongue is good, a white and scaly one is bad, according to Dr. Harold Katz, bacteriologist and founder of the California Breath Clinic. If you have a spoon handy, you can find out by scraping the back of your tongue with the tip of the spoon, letting it dry, and then smelling it.
Dr Katz also says cupping your hands in front of your mouth and blowing doesn't work. He tells CNN that licking your hand is better:
Smelling your own breath in cupped hands is not the best way to check for halitosis, Katz says. Instead, lick the back of your hand, let it dry for a few seconds, and then smell the surface.
There are other ways of testing the back of your tongue too — like cotton swabs or dental floss — but the point is that is where the bad breath originates from so that's what you need to check.
With food, you can always be a little mindful of what you are eating. If you just ate something loaded with garlic and onions, chances are people want to stand a couple of feet away from you while talking. Knowing you have eaten foods that stink, run through some precautionary hygiene measures to fix your breath.
How to Fix Bad Breath: The Most Effective Solutions
Here's the bad news: there is no long-term, one-size-fits-all solution to fixing bad breath. Much like eating well, you need to keep at it regularly. Since halitosis is caused due to different reasons, the fixes are all temporary and need to be repeated to combat halitosis. However, doing them regularly does reduce how rancid your breath gets and how quickly bad breath builds up in your mouth.
Drink Water Regularly
Bacteria builds up when you have a dry mouth and the obvious way to combat this is to drink water regularly. If your mouth stays hydrated and is producing saliva regularly, you reduce the chances of bad breath.
Use Tongue Scrapers
Drill it into your heads, ladies and gents. There is nothing, nothing, nothing as effective as cleaning the back of your tongue regularly. If you can, you should ideally be cleaning it after every meal. Tongue scrapers are best for a quick fix:
Though there is no standard treatment, bacteria-causing halitosis can be reduced by brushing or scraping the middle and back of the tongue. Tongue scraping can lower the concentration of volatile sulfur compounds, subsequently reducing oral malodor.
Rinse with Mouthwash
If brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue does not fit the decorum of your office, you can turn to rinsing with mouthwash. Rinsing and gargling is better at washing away bacteria than chewing gum or popping a mint, but this is still a temporary fix and not as thorough as scraping your tongue. To get the most out of it, KnowYourTeeth says you need to rinse for 30 seconds and not eat or smoke for 30 minutes after:
Measure the proper amount of rinse as specified on the container or as instructed by your dentist. With your lips closed and the teeth kept slightly apart, swish the liquid around with as much force as possible. Many rinses suggest swishing for 30 seconds or more. Finally, thoroughly spit the liquid from your mouth. Consumers should not rinse, eat, or smoke for 30 minutes after using rinses, as these practices will dilute the fluoride and rinse it away.
There has been some concern about mouthwashes that use alcohol-causing oral cancer, although a recent meta-study revealed no "statistically significant association between mouthwash use and risk of oral cancer". Still, if you want to play it safe, you can try making your own mouthwash without alcohol. It's super-easy and lasts for at least a month. If you use it regularly, you won't need it to last that long anyway.
Bacteria can break down food stuck between your teeth, and emit a foul odour. Flossing regularly helps remove any food particles. While your tongue is going to be the main problem, as commenter Stulgs points out, flossing regularly is also necessary to deal with bad breath. So floss, and do it right!
Pop Some Mints
Most people will probably carry mints or chewing gum as an easy way to freshen your breath, but you should know that this effect is temporary and won't last as long as rinsing with mouthwash or scrubbing your tongue. That said, if you do need mints, dentist Dr Leong Hon Chiew tells Men's Health that oral strips are your best bet:
If you must suck on a breath mint, Dr Leong says to look for oral strips. They dissolve faster and, hence, the sugar in them spends less time in contact with your teeth, potentially lessening the possibility of tooth decay.
Eat Breath-Friendly Foods
There are also certain foods you can eat to combat bad breath. Dr Katz says:
Green tea has anti-bacterial properties that knock out the stink. Cinnamon contains essential oils that kill many types of oral bacteria. Try adding fresh cinnamon to your morning toast or oatmeal, or adding a stick to flavour your tea.
Eating crisp fruits and vegetables, such as celery or apples, offers dual bad-breath-busting benefits. Chewing them will produce more saliva in your mouth, and the firm texture will also help scrub away bacteria, according to Katz. Melons, oranges and berries also help.
Again, scraping your tongue is more thorough, but Tipnut offers some all-natural ingredients that you can chew (and possibly even keep in your purse or pocket) to temporarily counter your bad breath:
- Anise (a couple after each meal, which helps with digestion too.)
- Dill (which masks the odour.)
- Cinnamon sticks (Break off a small chunk to nibble on, which helps kill the bacteria in your mouth.)
- Cloves (All you need is one! This has antibacterial properties that help get the job done.)
- Parsley: (Chew well. There's a reason why many restaurants add a sprig of parsley for garnish.)
Incidentally, if you have eaten foods that cause bad breath, you can counter that by eating other foods. For example, drinking a glass of milk counters garlic breath to some degree.
If it's wine that you are indulging in, fruits are the way to go, according to Jezebel:
If it's too late and your mouth is already indigo, try eating something crunchy, like an apple, or grab a lemon wedge from the bar, retire to the rest room, and rub it on your teeth. Take a breather from imbibing and drink water.
Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to tackle your bad breath problem once and for all!