Bad Breath (Halitosis) - Curing Bad Breath
Halitosis is better than no breath at all,” jokes one dentist. But the problem of halitosis, or bad breath, has plagued mankind for centuries, leaving few people laughing about it. To conquer bad breath, the ancient Greeks reputedly rinsed with white wine, anise seed, and myrrh, while the Italians mixed up a mouthwash of sage, cinnamon, juniper seeds, root of cypress, and rosemary leaves, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Today, Americans spend more than half a billion dollars for mouthwashes that often contain little more than alcohol and flavoring. But people worry about their breath. Indeed, New York Times health columnist Jane E. Brody has written that she receives more questions about bad breath than about any other common medical problem.
Maybe one explanation is the simple fact that you can’t really tell whether you’ve got bad breath. This is a time when you have to depend on the honesty and kindness of friends to let you know. “We’re immune to our own breath,” says Linda Niessen, D.M.D., M.P.H., associate professor and chair of geriatric oral medicine in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Dentistry at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas.
What if you’re on your way to that important meeting and you simply must know if your breath will precede you through the door? You can try breathing into a handkerchief or running floss between your teeth, suggests Erwin Barrington, D.D.S., professor of periodontics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Fixing bad breath depends on what’s causing it. In 80 to 90 percent of cases, it’s due to something in the mouth. Most often, bad breath is the result of nothing more serious than a dirty mouth. Plaque, the nearly invisible film of bacteria that’s constantly forming in your mouth, is often
responsible. Other dental culprits include cavities and gum disease. “Tooth decay by itself doesn’t smell bad, but the trapped food does,” explains Niessen.
Occasionally, bad breath is due to something in the lungs or gastrointestinal tract or to a systemic (bodywide) condition. “Eating a garlicky meal is one of the most common causes,” says Niessen.
The strong odors of foods like garlic, onions, and alcohol are carried through the bloodstream and, exhaled by the lungs. Another big loser when it comes to turning your breath sour-and harming your health-is tobacco.
In addition, some health problems, such as sinus infections or diabetes (which may give the breath a chemical smell), can cause bad breath, points out, Barrington.
Figuring out the cause of bad breath is the first step, obviously, in doing something about it. Here’s what you can do to keep your breath as fresh as possible:
Keep your mouth clean. “That’s the key thing,” stresses Sebastian G. Ciancio, D.D.S., professor and chairman of the Department of PeriodontoJogy and clinical professor of pharmacology at the School of Dental Medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo. That means a thorough brushing twice a day. It also means nossing regularly. Food and bacteria trapped between teeth and at the gum line can only be removed with floss; if it’s left to linger, it’s not going to smell nice.
Clean your tongue, too. Bacteria left on your tongue can certainly contribute to less-than-fresh breath, so be sure to brush your tongue after you’ve polished your pearly whites.
Wet your whistle. A dry mouth can equal smelly breath. Saliva helps clean your mouth; it has a natural antibacterial action and it washes away food particles, says Ciancio. (It’s the reduced saliva now at night that explains morning breath, by the way.)
Try chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless mints to stimulate saliva production.
Rinse. If nothing else, at least rinse your mouth with plain water after eating, recommends Virginia L. Woodward, R.D.H., past president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.Swishing the water around in your mouth may help to remove some of the food particles left in the mouth after a meal.
Munch on parsley. That green sprig of parsley that came with your meal can do more than decorate your plate. While munching on parsley or spearmint won’t cure bad breath, the scent of the herb itself can help temporarily cover up offending oral odor. (You’re basically trading an offensive odor for a more acceptable one.)
Eat to smell sweet. Foods that help fight plaque may also help fight mouth odor, says Woodward. Opt for celery, carrots, peanuts, or a bit of low-fat cheese if you want something to snack on. “A healthy diet will help your teeth as well,” Barrington points out.
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