Kissing bad breath goodbye
4 November 2003
Despite its endearing nickname of morning breath, bad breath or halitosis, as the medical profession calls it, often lasts longer than the early hours. Apart from destroying self-confidence, bad breath is also a sign of poor oral hygiene and possibly other health problems as well. Taking care of one’s dental health is the most essential step in eliminating bad breath. Read on to find out how.
What causes bad breath?
There are two main culprits responsible for bad breath: the food that we eat and the breakdown of food particles by bacteria that inhabit the mouth.
Bad breath caused by eating certain food like onions, garlic or cabbage is usually temporary. When we eat, sulphur compounds from the food are absorbed by our digestive systems and into the bloodstream where they are carried to the lungs. The lungs then expel the smell from the body through the air that we exhale and also through our sweat and urine. If the food eaten has a particularly strong smell, the effect could last for hours or even days. You can get rid of this type of bad breath by simply avoiding the food that causes it.
Bacteria, on the other hand, can lead to chronic or long-term bad breath. Again the problems start with food. The 170-plus bacteria living in our mouth feast on the bits of food left on our teeth, gums and in the deep crevices of the tongue after eating, thus producing a volatile sulphur compound that gives our breath a foul smell.
How can I tell if my breath smells?
Often, it is hard for most people to tell whether their breath smells since everyone tends to be accustomed to their own body odour. Worse still, much of the foul breath is created at the back of our mouths and is expelled outwards only when we talk. So by cupping your hand and nose to smell exhaled air or licking the back of your hand will not help. The best way to check is to ask a close friend for an honest opinion. Some dentists measure breath odour using a device called a Halimeter®. The patient blows into a straw-like tube connected to the machine to determine the levels of volatile sulphur compound present. You can also do an accurate and discreet self-test by running a piece of tissue paper across your tongue and quickly sniffing it.
Eliminating bad breath
Brush and floss your teeth properly
These are the most crucial steps in stopping bad breath caused by bacteria that live in and between our teeth and gums. Brushing should last at least two or three minutes to allow to clean all over the surface of the teeth followed by a through flossing.
Clean your tongue
Apart from the teeth, the tongue is the place where bacteria-causing odour are most likely to dwell under a protective layer of mucous, food particles and proteins that are hidden deep within the crevices of your tongue. Cleaning your tongue with a tongue cleaner/scraper (available from most large pharmacies and supermarkets) can remove this layer and much of the bacteria which resides on your tongue. Remember to clean near the back of the tongue where most of the bacteria live. Expect the motion to make you gag.
Drink plenty of water
A dry mouth is the ideal home for odour causing bacteria, which flourish in this type of environment. Actions which dry the mouth or reduce saliva flow can increase bad breath. These include such prescription drugs as antihistamines and decongestants, excessive talking, exercising, dieting, smoking, drinking alcohol or using mouthwashes containing a high amount of alcohol.
Use a chlorine dioxide mouthwash
Mouthwashes containing chlorine dioxide are the latest enemy of bad breath. Conventional mouthwashes at best only temporarily mask bad breath. At worst, conventional mouthwashes can make the situation worse by drying out the mouth making it more hospitable to odour producing bacteria. For a more natural option, you can also make your own brew by adding two drops of peppermint oil to a glass of warm water or rinsing your mouth with Echinacea tea everyday.
Chew on fresh guava leaf or sugar-free gum after meals
This is a helpful option for those who cannot brush their teeth after every meal. The chewing action helps to cleanse the teeth and stimulate the flow of saliva, which in turn helps to cleanse the mouth and dissolve the foul-smelling volatile sulphur compounds.
Check for signs of gingivitis and other dental problems
If you have done all of the above and still find your breath smells, you may want to see your dentist to check whether the bacteria have hidden in your periodontal pockets (the tiny space between teeth and gums). Signs of periodontal disease problem include swollen or bleeding gums, tender gums, loosening and shifting teeth, sensitive teeth and pain upon chewing.
Get a dental check-up at least once a year
Often people are not aware of dental problems until a considerable amount of damage has been done. Having a dentist checking your teeth regularly can detect any problem at an early stage. In addition, the dentist can also diagnose problems that cause bad breath including gingivitis, abscesses, periodontal disease and impacted teeth.
Eat your greens
The chlorophyll contained in green vegetables can help freshen your breath. Meanwhile, steer clear of food with strong smells and limit your intake of alcohol, white flour carbohydrate, caffeine and dairy products, all which cause your breath to smell after eating.
Some homeopaths believe that by eating six or seven ripe bananas for breakfast for a week can also help to get rid of bad breath.