How to Prevent Bad Breath from Coming Back: Ten Things You Need to Know

Just about everyone has halitosis once in a while. More often than not the problem is just forgetting about brushing and using dental floss. Or maybe bad breath is a short-term complication of eating the wrong foods.

Sometimes, however, bad breath is more serious. Medical problems that cause bad breath, such as uncontrolled diabetes, liver failure, kidney failure, or a blockage in the colon are very serious but account for less than 1% of all cases of bad breath. Dental problems related to fillings, braces, or crowns are more common, but they are not the major cause of chronic bad breath, either.

The most common cause of halitosis is inadequate oral hygiene. This doesn’t mean that people who have bad breath are too lazy to brush their teeth (although some seniors have to have help with their daily oral care). It’s really just a matter of not knowing when brushing is not enough. This article will help you know what to do. But first, how can you tell whether you have bad breath?

Do You Really Have Bad Breath?

Depending on which oral health expert who is doing the counting, from 50 to 100 million Americans have halitosis. A lot more worry that they do.

Dr. Walter Loesche is an expert on bad breath and cavities who teaches dentistry and microbiology at the University of Michigan. Dr. Loesche says that many more people think they have bad breath odor than actually do. A few of the people he treats are actually at risk of suicide.

The rest of are more accurately described as self-conscious worriers. The best way to find out if you have bad breath, Dr. Loesche says, is to ask a child. Children are less likely to be concerned about the social implications of honesty on this issue. Another way to determine whether you have bad breath is to lick your wrist and sniff.

If you don’t want to ask others whether you have bad breath, you can buy a breath meter. The devices that cost $20 or so don’t work all that well. The devices that cost $200, $300, or more work quite well. But if you don’t want to invest in a bad breath gas detector, you can also consider the seven symptoms of bad breath.

Spending a Fortune to Get Rid of Bad Breath

Bad breath has Americans spending up to $4 billion a year on breath mints, breath sprays, toothpaste, mouthwashes, and other remedies that they hope will keep treat the conditions causing halitosis and breath fresh. But dentists and other bad breath experts say that most of these purchases are a waste at best. Some supposedly healthy treatments for bad breath can even make the problem worse. Even the semiannual trek to the dentist the scrape away plaque and treat gingivitis-affected gums will not necessarily prevent or stop stinky breath.

According to Dr. Lawrence Meskin, who was editor of the Journal of the American Dental Association for many years, people going to these clinics spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, sometimes  ore than 10,000 dollars, for what a dentist “can do” and “should do for less.” If you just make some simple changes in the way you brush your teeth and keep your mouth clean, and in what you eat and drink you may find the perfect—and effective—home remedy for the factors that really cause bad breath. Here are 10 tips providing the vital hygiene info you need to know to stop bad breath from coming back and live your life bad breath free.

1. Onion and garlic breath, and stinky breath after eating stinky cheese or pickled fish, last only as long as food particles remain in your mouth. The easiest way to get rid of them is to rinse your mouth with plain water. Since most of us can’t gargle at the dinner table, a better solution is to brush and floss and rinse the mouth after eating. (Be sure to rinse your toothbrush, too, to keep from putting the offending food particles back in your mouth the next time you brush.) Over 95% of the volatile oils that cause bad breath will be eliminated by digestion once you clean your teeth, tongue, and gums, although a few may be detectable for up to six hours if you burp.

2. Allergies can cause bad breath, and antihistamines you take for allergies can make the problem worse. Runny-nose allergies generate a lot of mucus. Mucus contains proteins on which bad breath bacteria can feed. It’s best to get rid of dried mucus with the help of a neti pot. Antihistamines that make you sleepy also stun the cilia that help move mucus out of your sinuses and nose. They stop runny nose, but the provide bacteria with a feast of proteins from which they digest sulfur-bearing compounds.

3. Always make sure your toothbrush is clean and dry before you use it to brush your teeth. A wet toothbrush caked white with toothpaste is a bad breath germ factory. And remember to rinse your toothbrush every time you brush.

4. Chewing sugarless gum keeps saliva flowing. This carries food particles and bacteria to the stomach where they will be digested. It’s probably an overstatement to claim that sugarless gum can cure bad breath, but it can be very helpful when the underlying problem is dry mouth caused by medications of various sorts, especially medications for irritable bladder and uncontrollable bladder. Sugarless gum flavored with xylitol can also prevent ear infections in both children and adults.

5. Chronic bad breath can be a symptom of an illness centered elsewhere in the body, such as diabetes, chronic bronchitis, liver disease, kidney failure, or autoimmune disease. Breath odor alone is never a symptom of any of these problems. It is always one of several symptoms of a serious disease. Breath that smells like a combination of fruit juice and nail polish remover, for instance, along with dry skin, confusion, and blurred vision, may be signs of a diabetic emergency known as ketoacidosis. Breath that smells “fecal” along with pain on the left side of the abdomen can indicate an intestinal blockage. We have written about bad breath as a medical symptom elsewhere on this site.

6. Alcohol-based mouthwashes like regular Listerine usually don’t work for more than an hour or so. Worse the alcohol they contain can dry out the mouth and create new homes for bacterial infection. Ironically, using a mouthwash that has enough alcohol to kill bad breath bacteria would be a little like gargling with aguardiente or scotch (something we don’t recommend). It would sting your mouth but not sting the germs.

7. Red lips, red gums, or a red tongue (unless it’s red due to piercing) that don’t change color when you put ice on them are a sign of serious infection that requires medical or dental attention right away. Really bad breath may follow, but that’s not the main problem.  Bacteria escaping into the bloodstream can cause serious infections of the arteries, heart, and kidneys.

8. Water softeners replace calcium ions (which can cause deposits that clog pipes and hot water heaters) with sodium ions, but extra salt used to soften water can dry out your mouth. If you use a water softener in your home, drink bottled water.

9. When even careful attention to brushing and flossing does not get rid of halitosis, sometimes tongue cleaning can make all the different. Dr. Erika Boever, also of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, explains that the tongues of some people are coated with bacteria the feed on and ferment proteins. The process of fermenting food particles in the mouth produces fatty acids, ammonia, methylmercaptan (a chemical also found in feces), and hydrogen sulfide, the chemical that causes rotten egg odor. Gently scraping the tongue with a plastic instrument at least three times a week sometimes eliminates bad breath odor when nothing else works. It may take as long as three weeks to remove enough bacteria on your tongue to make a difference. Don’t forget to rinse the scraper (or your toothbrush) after you use it on your tongue.

10. The chemical chlorhexidine can kill bad breath bacteria. It’s also good for removing the sulfurous odor left by onions and garlic. But because it can also kill your taste buds, you should not use it on a continuous basis, for more than a week at a time with a week “off.”


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