While halitosis, or bad breath, is far from ideal, we've all been there. It's not a cause for embarrassment, but rather a signal that you need to make a couple of tweaks to your wellness routine. Breath mints are not always a viable solution. Our experts suggest that bad breath can stem from eating the wrong types of foods for your body chemistry or neglecting to reach all the spots in your mouth where bacteria can fester.
From tools to tinctures, we've got some tips to help you get rid of bad breath, ahead.
Meet the Expert
- Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM, is an herbalist, acupuncturist, and specialist in Chinese traditional medicine and the founder of Vie Healing.
- Lawrence Fung, DDS, is a California-based cosmetic dentist and the founder of Silicon Beach Dental.
- Sam Saleh, DDS, is a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and London.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
It's no surprise that poor oral hygiene is a precursor for bad breath. Nevertheless, Fung explains the science: "When you don’t brush, rinse, and floss consistently and correctly, you end up with a buildup of bacteria and plaque buildup. The plaque layer that builds up on our teeth will cause bad breath since it is made up of odorous bacteria." How's that for motivation to brush, floss, and rinse?
A buzzy new product on the market is the toothpaste tablet formulated with nano-hydroxyapatite, which helps break down the bacteria, preventing it from attaching to the tooth surface.
Regardless of what kind of toothpaste you use, the key to fresh breath is sticking with your oral hygiene routine. "The best oral care practice is one that is consistent," explains Fung. "Brush twice a day for two minutes (most people only brush for 30 to 40 seconds)." Saleh adds that you should "ideally spend 30 seconds per quarter of your mouth, hence two minutes in total, twice a day." When brushing, Saleh recommends to "brush with an electronic toothbrush and ensure the brush head contacts all three surfaces of every tooth."
Brush, Floss, Rinse (in That Order) to Remove Plaque
The order in which you perform your oral hygiene routine can also play a role in the freshness factor when it comes to your breath. "I generally recommend brushing first to loosen and remove food particles and plaque from the surface of the teeth and gums," explains Fung. "Then I follow that with floss to remove the interdental plaque and any other food particles and debris that’s stuck between the teeth. Lastly, I rinse to remove all the germs and anything else brushing and flossing might have missed." He notes that some people like to floss before and after brushing for extra measure.
Following these steps helps eradicate plaque, which is key to a healthy mouth. "Plaque leads to bad breath in a few different ways," Fung explains. "First, plaque is made up of bacteria, which smells." Additionally, if you don't address plaque, it can lead to gingivitis. "Gingivitis," Fung says, "is where the gums are inflamed and swollen. It can cause periodontitis, which is when the inflammation reaches the bone of our teeth, leading to a foul smell." To remove plaque, you don't need any fancy DIY kit; in fact, Fung advises against them. "There are more and more DIY kits coming to the market for removing tartar [plaque that's hardened]. While it sounds good in theory, it’s actually a very bad idea. If excessive force is being used during the self-cleaning, you can cause irreversible damage to the gums and teeth."
According to Fung, a good toothbrush and effective toothpaste (try an anti-plaque variety, like Hello’s Antiplaque+Whitening Fluoride Free) will suffice. To floss, try using black-colored dental floss, like Burst's Charcoal Expanding Floss, so you can see the debris you're removing from your mouth. Our expert dentists advise flossing after every meal. Finally, consider using an oil pulling rinse to conclude your oral hygiene routine. Coconut oil remains an effective remedy that helps remove plaque and odor-forming bacteria that might have been left behind.
Use a Tongue Scraper
To keep your mouth extra fresh, consider cleaning your tongue. "Scrape the tongue with a scraper daily to remove bacteria that lives on the surface of the tongue," Saleh advises. A copper model is a good choice, as copper has natural antibacterial properties.
Avoid Foods With Sulfur
Aside from poor or inconsistent oral hygiene, diet is a major culprit of halitosis. Fung notes that eating foods with high "volatile sulfur compounds" can lead to bad breath. These foods include garlic and onions. "Plaque can also trap those volatile sulfur compounds, making it harder for your mouth to remove them."
Nix Greasy, Fried, and Sugary Foods
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), halitosis is "caused by improper digestion in the stomach," explains Dan. She explains this as "heat or cold trapped in the digestive tract, which may be causing food to almost rot or spoil, leading to malabsorption." To this end, it's best to nix greasy or fried foods that your body is having a hard time breaking down.
Additionally, Saleh urges people to avoid foods high in sugar, as this can "promote bacterial growth in the mouth."
Eat According to Your Body Temperature
Having a good idea of what your basal body temperature is can help you determine your ideal diet and keep your digestive tract running smoothly. The result isn't just fresher breath but overall improved health and wellness. Dan notes that "if your body runs hot, abdomen is hot to the touch, and you have a reddish tongue, it’s best to avoid, fried, greasy and spicy foods."
Respectively, Dan says, "if you run cold, have a cold abdomen to the touch, and a puffy, pale watery tongue, then avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid cold smoothies and shakes." Instead, she recommends cooking your veggies and "incorporating warming foods into your daily diet."
Try an Herbal Tincture
Dan adds that an herbal tincture might help promote gut health, which in turn will clear up and any breath concerns. Fung adds, "Sometimes halitosis is due to more internal health issues, namely issues with our GI tract. When our gut health is imbalanced, it can lead to foul smelling gas traveling up, leading to bad breath."
In particular, look for a tincture that contains a variation on the formula Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, that not only clears liver stagnation to improve the flow of qi, but also deals with heat that can get built up from being stuck in the GI tract. In recent years, medical science has come to recognize the connection between the gut and brain and gut and mood, so addressing stress belly or bleakness of mood can have a great effect on breath. "A tailored herbal formulation is also beneficial to resolve the root of the issue," notes Dan.
Clear Your Sinuses
Keeping sinuses clear is another way to address any odorous breath. "There is evidence to suggest a post nasal drip can interact with bacteria in the mouth that can lead to a bad smell," explains Saleh.
You'll also want to stay well hydrated for a couple of reasons. Dry mouth can lead to bad breath, explain our experts. "Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day," Saleh notes. "For those who suffer from chronic dry mouth, artificial saliva may need to be prescribed."
If you use mouthwash, be sure to use a variety that doesn't contain alcohol, as alcohol will lead to dry mouth, exacerbating halitosis.
Proper hydration also keeps saliva flowing, which is important for overall oral hygiene. "Saliva flow is also very important in prevention of gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath," says Fung. "Saliva contains minerals that not only keep the gums hydrated but provide a buffering effect from acids produced by bacteria and foods. Saliva also contains minerals that can repair our teeth at night time."
See Your Dentist
If you can't clear up halitosis with consistent and proper oral hygiene and by tweaking your diet, that might mean something else is going on, warranting a trip to the dentist. Fung says halitosis that doesn't resolve itself may signal "underlying dental issues like periodontal disease or tooth decay."
Saleh says gingivitis, tonsillitis, tonsil stones, or dental abscesses might also be the cause. No need to freak out—just book an appointment with your dentist. According to Saleh, you should also see your hygienist four times a year, "in order to reduce the bacteria levels in the mouth."