What’s worse than being around someone with bad breath?
When you’re that someone.
Halitosis – or chronic bad breath – is something that mouthwash, mints, or a good brushing cannot easily solve. It is not a medical emergency, but some 25 to 30 percent of the world’s population suffer from this distressing problem. Certain bacteria inside the mouth secrete chemicals called volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). These chemicals quickly turn into the gasses that are responsible for the rotten egg smell of bad breath.
More often than not, bad breath comes from underlying dental diseases that have not been addressed, such as dental cavities, gum disease, infections of the mouth, nose and throat, dry mouth, or smoking and tobacco. If you have not seen a dentist in a long time, one of the first things you should do is visit the dentist for a full checkup and teeth cleaning.
But until you are able to see the dentist, here are six proven home remedies for reducing VSC-producing bacteria and eliminating bad breath.
1. Drink More Water
One common cause for bad breath (and other oral health problems) is dry mouth (also called Xerostomia). This is a condition where your body doesn’t produce enough saliva to coat the inside of your cheeks, teeth and tongue. Saliva is important because it contains the enzyme lysozyme that attacks and perforates the cell walls of certain bacteria, making them burst. Immunoglobulin A antibodies are also secreted into saliva that prevent pathogens from settling in the oral cavity.
Many different factors can cause dry mouth. The most common cause is dehydration. Diet and certain medications can also have an effect. While there are no strict recommendations for daily water intake, the United States Food and Nutrition Board suggests 2.7 liters per day for females and 3.7 l per day for males, derived largely from both foods and beverages.
Drinking enough water every day keeps the mouth moist and impedes the growth of microbes by loosening food particles in the mouth, and temporarily dislodging bacteria. This is especially helpful immediately after you wake up in the morning when your mouth is driest and breath is less fresh. One alternative to drinking is to gargle water or salt water in your mouth. Warm salt water has a mild disinfectant effect and will discourage bacterial growth in the mouth.
2. Scrape Your Tongue
If you look at the top surface of your tongue, it is not a flat surface. Indeed, the tongue is coated with small pink-coloured finger-like filaments (called papillae) with grooves in between, making it a perfect environment for all sorts of foul-smelling bacteria to live in and cause bad breath.
Even if you’re an oral hygiene all-star who brushes your teeth twice a day, flosses daily and dutifully visits your dentist every six months, you might notice a white discoloration on the tongue surface. These white patches are bacterial colonies that can result in halitosis. Therefore, it is important to keep the tongue clean.
Remember to brush your tongue after brushing your teeth. It is recommended that you use a separate toothbrush from your normal brush. You can also buy a specialized tongue scraper. No matter which tool you use, rinse afterward to remove leftover residue.
3. Floss your Teeth
Need another reason to floss your teeth daily? Flossing at least once a day helps eliminate bad breath, prevents cavities and gum disease by effectively removing the food particles and bacteria stuck between the teeth that contribute to them.
Here is a helpful tip: when flossing, be sure to hug the floss around each side of your tooth and slide the floss up and down while wrapped around the tooth. This will ensure food particles and bacteria are “scrapped off” the tooth surface
Make an effort to floss at least once a day. Even better would be if you could floss after every meal.
Your oral care routine to help prevent bad breath should include not only daily flossing, but also brushing the teeth, tongue, gums and roof of your mouth twice each day. Using a mouthwash can provide short-term relief for bad breath, but use it as an addition to (not a substitute for) brushing and flossing.
4. Probiotic Yoghurt
There is no hiding the fact that the mouth is full of bacteria and while we cannot eliminate them altogether, we can keep the quantity down and alter their quality. This is the thinking behind this next strategy to eliminate bad bacteria that cause smelly breath, which is to replace them with good bacteria that is odorless. Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for health.
Eating fermented foods rich in probiotics, including yogurt and sauerkraut, will reduce levels of bad bacteria in the mouth and can improve the smell of your breath.
A 2017 study compared the effects of probiotic yogurt and xylitol chewing gum on the amount of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) bacteria in saliva. S. mutans significantly contribute to tooth decay and halitosis.
Researchers divided the 50 participants into two groups. One group ate 200 grams of probiotic yogurt per day while the other group chewed two xylitol chewing gums three times per day after meals.
Both groups showed a reduction in S. mutans from the first day of the experiment and persisted for the duration of the study. There was no significant difference between the two groups. Therefore, eating probiotic yogurt appears to be an effective home remedy against bad breath.
5. Green Tea
Green tea is an antioxidant-rich tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Both black and green tea contain polyphenol, a natural chemical that has been shown to reduce the level of bacteria that causes bad breath.
Prepare a pot of tea and slowly sip it throughout the day to keep your breath clean. If you drink green tea daily, the level of bacteria causing bad breath will reduce even further over time. Tea also rids the body of toxins and improves digestion.
6. Mouth Rinses
General antiseptic mouth rinses such as Listerine are effective in reducing the overall number of bacteria in the mouth, some of which are responsible for bad breath.
A growing number of consumers are embracing natural herbal mouth rinses made of natural, plant-based ingredients. Unlike most commercial cosmetic and therapeutic oral rinses, natural mouth rinses typically do not contain alcohol, sugar, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners, or stannous fluoride. Popular ingredients found in natural oral rinses include:
- Echinacea, an immune-stimulating herb, helps combat infection; it is anti-inflammatory and antiviral.
- Grapefruit seed extract, made from the seeds and pulp of grapefruit, has antiseptic and antibacterial properties to fight infection.
- Peppermint provides a pleasant, freshening flavor and sensation.
- Tea tree oil, a potent antimicrobial essential oil, fights the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. It is often used in combination with other natural herbs, such as rosemary, chamomile, echinacea, aloe and fresh mint.
- Essential oils, such as rosemary, clove, anise, cinnamon, eucalyptus, fennel, lavender, and spearmint are used to flavor natural oral rinses, freshen breath and reduce bacteria in the mouth
Whether you use traditional antiseptic mouth rinses or a herbal mouth rinse, be sure to rinse at least once a day to keep bad breath down.
Short author bio: Dr David Nguy DDS is the practice owner of Atlas Dental and Oral Radiology Toronto in Toronto, Canada. Dr Nguy has no conflicts of interest to disclose.