How to Kill Bad Breath

Have you ever wondered whether the products you buy to control bad breath can really get rid of it for good? In 2007, scientists at the Nippon Dental University in Japan and the University of British Columbia used high-tech gas chromatography to determine whether common remedies for this most common of all health conditions really work.

The two teams of scientists recruited volunteers who were asked not to eat any food or drink any beverages, floss, brush, scrape, or use oral irrigators or neti pots from midnight until they came in for their laboratory appointments the next morning. The objective of testing was to find out whether common bad breath treatments could take care of ordinary bad breath, the kind that can occur any day but doesn’t occur every day.

The volunteers were asked to blow into a collection vessel for the gas chromatograph. The machine was calibrated to measure hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan, two components of bad breath odor that are also identified with rotten eggs and sewer gas, respectively. The first breath test established a baseline measurement. Subsequent tests at one-hour intervals measured the effects of common breath treatments.

Testing revealed that:

  • Breath mints reduced rotten egg odor or sewer gas odor, but never both at the same time.
  • Chewing gum did not reduce concentration of gases in the mouth. (It’s reasonable to assume that chewing gum releases saliva that rinses food particles off the teeth and tongue and prevents future gas formation, but the test shows it does not reduce already existing gases.)
  • “A very popular parsley oil product,” probably the Clorets brand of breath gum, not only did not reduce breath odor, after 2 hours bad breath bacteria started decaying the gum itself.
  • Toothpaste reduced bad breath gases slightly for up to two hours. (Brushing removes food particles and stops the formation of bad breath odor in the future but does not get rid of bad breath odor already in the mouth.)
  • Drinking green tea was a better breath deodorant than any of the other treatments tested. However, its effects only lasted 2 hours and only reduced the concentration of bad breath gases by about 50%.

What the science shows is that most of things we take for bad breath operate on the same principle as banging your head against the wall. It feels better when you stop.
Most bad breath products only cover up bad breath odors. Most of the things we do to treat bad breath, like brushing and flossing and tongue scraping, prevent future bad breath odors. But that does not mean that everything about breath mints and scented toothpaste and breath gums isn’t bad! Here are the key points you need to know:

  • Breath mints don’t remove breath odor. They just mask it so it is less noticeable. Mint, peppermint, and wintergreen contain volatile oils that irritate the lining of your nasal passages. Your central nervous system pays more attention to the irritation caused by the mint than to the odor caused by bad breath. The downside of breath mints is that they smell better to you than they do to other people. The also reduce the likelihood you will burp up obnoxious gases released from the digestion of garlic, onions, smoked fish, and cheese. 
  • Chlorophyll chewing gum and other sugarless chewing gums don’t deodorize, but they do stimulate salivation. If you can keep your mouth and tongue from getting dry, there will be fewer tiny cracks to provide halitosis bacteria with a home. These products don’t get rid of bad breath right away, but they do keep it from developing later. And chewing gum flavored with xylitol can also prevent ear and sinus infections.
  • Toothpaste (except for baking soda toothpaste) isn’t a deodorant, either. But a daily brush with baking soda or  peroxide toothpaste really can help prevent gingivitis and other forms of gum and tooth decay capable of causing overwhelming odors. Be sure to rinse your toothbrush after you use it.

And what other research reveals is that all forms of green tea are not equal when it comes to halitosis care. Green tea you make the Asian way, by putting finely ground green tea directly in the cup and covering with hot water, is an excellent breath freshener and an important aid to oral hygiene. Green tea you make from tea bags, not so much. White tea has similar properties, but the bagged form is not best.

There are times, of course, that additional effort is necessary for controlling bad breath. Certain medications, like the drugs used to treat irritable bladder disease, depression, or Parkinson’s disease, are especially drying to the mouth. Any infection that causes bleeding or that makes the gums or tongue red is likely to cause bad breath, and getting a dentist to look at it should be a top priority. Person-to-person transmission of cold and flu germs will also result in halitosis about a week later, even if other symptoms are not all that rough.

Just be careful about the mouthwash you choose. Any product that contains alcohol, regular Listerine, for instance, can dry out the mouth and over the long run cause a bad breath problem as bad as the one it cures. At the top of your list of mouthwash selections should be alcohol-free herbal mouthwashes such as Sarakan and Astring-O-Sol, or non-drying non-herbal formulas like Oxyfresh with Zinc and Jason’s Powersmile.


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