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Give Bad Breath the Brush-Off

It happens to the best of us. At one time or another, we suffer from bad breath, also called halitosis. Unpleasant breath can be a sign of periodontal disease, or just a cause of embarrassment.

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) estimates that more than 80 million people suffer from chronic halitosis. Most bad breath comes from the gums and tongue, which are home to accumulated bacteria. When these microbes process debris from food, saliva, postnasal drip, and other sources, the result is a foul-smelling sulfur compound.

Failing to brush and floss regularly is the number one no-no. Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing at least once a day will help prevent tooth decay and help keep breath fresher.

Bacteria and Gum Disease

Bits of food left in your mouth from poor dental hygiene encourage bacteria to grow. These bacteria can cause gum disease. Visit your dentist regularly for routine cleaning and to rule out or treat gum disease. Other illnesses can cause bad breath, too, including ailments of the esophagus and stomach, or sinusitis or allergies causing postnasal drip. Occasionally, halitosis is a sign associated with oral cancer.

Certain foods such as garlic and onions can cause bad breath, as can certain highly spiced foods such as pastrami and kimchee. Alcoholic beverages can also cause bad breath. Using tobacco products is a source as well.

Another bad-breath culprit is a dry mouth. Saliva aids digestion and helps wash away excess food and bacteria. Without enough saliva, a smelly mouth can get smellier. Stress, alcohol, tobacco, breathing through the mouth, some medications (for example, many anti-depressants), and not drinking enough water can cause or worsen dry mouth.

If your mouth is dry, the ADA says, your dentist can recommend over-the-counter saliva substitutes. While some folks use mouthwash, gum, or mints to help a dry mouth—or bad breath in general—most of these products just mask the odor for a while and do little to solve the problem.

It is important to know that trying to fight bad breath with gum or mints can greatly increase the risk for getting tooth decay, unless sugar-free chewing gums and/or mints are used. Instead, try drinking water throughout the day.

How to Slay Dragon-Breath

  1. Brush twice daily, with special attention to the gum line, and floss once a day, especially after meals. Don’t forget to clean behind the back teeth in each row and brush your tongue.

  2. Avoid foods that may contribute to bad breath, such as garlic and onions.

  3. Avoid tobacco, which tends to dry the mouth and produce a foul smell.

  4. Visit your dentist regularly for cleaning. Your dentist can help you determine the cause of halitosis and how to fight it.

  5. If you think you have constant bad breath, keep a log of the foods you eat and medications you take. Discuss with your dentist how what you put into your mouth may affect your breath.

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