How to Treat Bad Breath: Five Approaches to Getting Rid of Bad Breath for Good

It’s not unusual for people with bad breath problems to spend thousands of dollars on treatment, but it’s really rare for expensive medical treatment to be really necessary. Even chronic bad breath usually does not have to be treated in a medical clinic by a doctor. The quick fixes for bad breath are usually effective and inexpensive, but it’s important to understand why bad breath happens to choose the right remedy.

Scientists estimate that about a quarter of the population has bad breath at any given time. It’s hard to tell if you have bad breath without someone else to give you feedback. That’s because we inhale and exhale vertically, while bad breath odors spread horizontally.

Certain stinky foods cause bad breath, but their effects are short-lived. About half the chemicals that cause garlic breath, for instance, can be removed from the mouth just by taking a few sips of water. The other half will dissipate in about six hours. There is no food that causes lingering bad breath, although if you are ill with certain digestive complaints (for example, the water-born parasitic disease giardiasis, which causes a particularly unpleasant symptom called “purple burps”) can cause release of unpleasant odors through the mouth.

Lasting bad breath is caused by bacteria that live on the back of the tongue, between the teeth, and in cracks and crevices caused by drying out the mouth or treating the mouth with harsh, alcohol-based mouthwashes, such as Listerine. If you have healthy gums and teeth, the place where the bacteria that cause bacteria are most likely to reside in your mouth on your tongue. If you see your dentist on a regular basis, simple dental hygiene will remove the plaque that forms a home for bad breath bacteria between your teeth.

Bacteria break down mucus and dead cells from your mouth and tongue, as well as tiny food particles left in your mouth after eating. As these bacteria digest protein, they produce two waste products, hydrogen sulfide (the chemical associated with rotten egg odor) and methyl mercaptan (the chemical associated with fecal odor). They can literally make your mouth smell like a sewer.

You can take products that cover up the sewer smell, or you can get rid of the bacteria and get rid of bad breath for good. If you take the second option, you need to be sure the product you take doesn’t also get rid of your taste buds (as prescription mouthwashes with chlorhexidine sometimes do) or cause tiny cracks in your mouth and tongue to create new homes for bacteria so have to keep using the product (as is the case with Scope and Listerine).

Here is the essential information for dealing with bad breath effectively.

1. Wash the odor away.

If the problem is garlic or onion breath, your best tip is that simply taking a few sips of water at the end of your meal will relieve a lot of the bad odor. Bad breath of any origin is relieved by drinking water regularly to keep food particles and bacteria from building up in the mouth. Green tea deodorizes the mouth for up to 2 hours. The kind of green tea you make with powdered tea over which you pour hot water is more effective than green tea made with tea bags. There is no top brand for this kind of tea, but powdered green tea is available in Asian markets everywhere.

2. Cover up the odor.

Mints and chewing gum don’t really get rid of bad breath odor. They just cover it up. Peppermint, however, can reduce the risk of burps (and flatulence) that also cause disagreeable odor emissions.

3. Let your saliva do the work.

Chewing gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which reduces the accumulation of bacteria and food particles in your mouth. You want to be sure to chew sugarless gum, of course, because sugar also feeds bacteria.

4. Kill the bacteria. Kill them all.

Alcohol-based mouthwashes like Listerine are designed to eliminate the bacteria that cause bad breath. Originally designed as an antiseptic for the walls of operating rooms and surgical theaters, Listerine contains over three times the concentration of alcohol needed to kill the bacteria in your mouth. (It’s about 54-proof.)

The problem with alcohol-based mouthwashes like Listerine and Scope is that they not only kill bacteria, they also kill tissue on the lining of your tongue and mouth. This creates new homes for bacteria that quickly find their way to your mouth. The more you use mouthwash, the more you need it. It’s no wonder people buy nearly a billion dollars worth of these products every year. Alcohol-based mouthwashes are no cure for halitosis.

If you have any questions about whether the product contains alcohol or not, just don’t use it. Your dentist can recommend an alcohol-free alternative.

5. Don’t kill the bacteria, just deprive them of a home in your mouth.

Another way to deal with bad breath bacteria is to prevent them from colonizing in your mouth. This is what mouthwash and toothpaste made with sanguinarine (bloodroot, in same dosages) does. The bacteria stay in your mouth, but they never attach themselves to your tongue so they can digest food particles (and dead tongue cells), so they never emit stinky sulfur compounds.

Some natural products, including the green, red, black, or white tea your drink, and the oral care products Sarakan and Astring-O-Sol, prevent the formation of bacterial colonies in a different way. These natural products provide tannins that literally “tan” the inside of you mouth and your tongue. Tiny cracks and crevices never form, so the bacteria that cause bad breath never form colonies and are easily rinsed away as you drink water and eat food.

Of course, brushing your teeth after every meal is important, but you don’t need to brush all day long. Too much brushing, especially with a harsh toothpaste, can wind up causing some of the same problems as using an alcohol-based mouthwash. Over-brushing doesn’t help halitosis. Dry mouth caused by drying toothpastes creates the same conditions that enable bacteria to thrive.

It’s also important to floss the right way. Floss side to side, not up and down. Loop dental floss around each tooth and loosen food particles. Pushing them up and down can trap them between your teeth, and the floss can injure your gums. Take good care of your oral health and hygiene, but let the right products do the work for you.


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