Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Anna Simon, BS, Ellen M. Martin
Bad breath (or halitosis) can be caused by dental caries (cavities), gum disease, infections, dry mouth, tobacco, and chronic conditions such as diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and liver or kidney disease. More recently it has been recognized that an important source of bad breath is an out-of-balance oral microbiome. When bacteria break down food particles in your mouth, they produce compounds, primarily sulphur-containing molecules, which create the stench. Since bad breath could be a sign of a serious underlying health issue, we recommend seeing your doctor if your condition persists despite proper oral hygiene. We want you to feel like your best self, so we did the research on how lifestyle and food can help remedy bad breath. Here are our best tips for keeping your breath fresh:
Use a tongue scraper
Bad breath can be caused by an accumulation of pathogenic bacteria that reside on your tongue. Use a tongue scraper like one sold by Boka, or a toothbrush with one on the back of the head like quip. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to your tongue, as heavy scraping can cut the tissue.
Treat dry mouth
Another common culprit of bad breath is dry mouth. Learn how to remedy dry mouth here. If you feel like your breath needs a refresher, remember that drinking plenty of water helps flush out bacteria and keep your mouth moist. For a long-term increase in saliva production, you can try a combination of pre- and probiotics.
Try a salt water rinse
Stir salt into warm water until it dissolves, then swish around your mouth and throat. According to Dr. Steven Lin’s post on how to get rid of bad breath, the mild acidity of salt water discourages the growth of bad microbes.
Use a mouthwash daily
Our mouths contain a balance of good and bad microorganisms. Mouthwashes like Listerine kill the bad bacteria in the mouth–AND the good bacteria. Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol and try a mouth rinse like Elementa instead, which uses nano silver particles to disrupt plaque buildup. You can also try Biotene, a non-alcohol mouthwash designed for dry mouth.
Treat your tummy
Gastrointestinal disorders such as acid reflux have been linked to halitosis,¹ so if you have a stomach problem, treating this may cure your bad breath. For more general stomach symptoms, check out this post on how to reduce stomach pain and bloating.
Don’t forget to exercise
New research suggests that moderate exercise is good for oral health. When working out, keep a bottle of water (perhaps with magnesium or potassium) with you to stay hydrated. Check out our post on unusual aspects of oral care here.
Practice good oral hygiene!
Most people know you should brush your teeth (and tongue) twice a day, floss every day, and go to the dentist every six months, but there’s more to oral health than just the bare minimum. Here are 3 less-obvious tips for maintaining long-term oral health. Read more in-depth on the oral microbiome here to work towards achieving optimal oral well-being.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammatory foods increase inflammation in the body, tend to exacerbate disease symptoms, and can lead to worse oral health. These foods include processed meats, sodas and sugary beverages, salty snacks, packaged sweets, and refined carbohydrates. Excess salt, in particular, can exacerbate dry mouth and lead to bad breath.
Strongly-flavored foods such as garlic, onions, and spicy foods can leave an unpleasant scent in your mouth. Additionally, sugary foods can lead to acid production, causing tooth decay and dental caries, contributing to worse oral health.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
On the other hand, anti-inflammatory foods help to reduce inflammation in the body and may reduce symptoms, including reducing halitosis; these are foods you should focus on including in your diet. Luckily, there are many anti-inflammatory foods, including turmeric, ginger, green leafy vegetables, berries, flax and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, olive oil, and salmon.
Try these diet tips for a healthy mouth, including eating crunchy vegetables and minimizing snacking. There are also some more specific foods that have been empirically shown to improve bad breath:
- Cinnamon is an antimicrobial agent against pathogenic bacteria.² To help with bad breath, chew a cinnamon stick, drink cinnamon-spiced tea, chew gum containing cinnamon oil, or rinse your mouth with cinnamon-flavored mouthwash.
- This study suggests that green tea reduces S. moorei-related halitosis, and studies have shown that it may decrease the incidence/severity of dental caries and periodontal diseases.³ Drink green tea to promote overall oral health and cure bad breath. You don’t have to brew it in hot water, either: just put green tea leaves in a jar, add water, and refrigerate for an easy iced green tea.
- Zinc neutralizes sulphur compounds that cause bad breath.⁴ Get zinc-containing lozenges, or use a toothpaste or mouthwash that contains zinc.
Check out our guide to food therapy to learn more about nutrition and how to experiment with food as therapy.
Drink water, skip caffeine and alcohol
It’s always a good idea to avoid soda, sugary drinks, and alcohol, opting for water instead. However, if you suffer from dry mouth, the beverages you consume are particularly important. Sip on water throughout the day to keep a consistent flow of liquid in your mouth. However, avoid bubbly water, as it is acidic and can make dry mouth worse. Both caffeinated beverages and alcohol can dry out your mouth. Try switching to decaffeinated coffee or tea instead to boost your energy.
We hope these tips help you cure your bad breath and feel ready to conquer the day. What do you do to fight bad breath? Let us know in the comments!
- Kinberg, S et al. “The gastrointestinal aspects of halitosis.” Can J Gastroenterol. 2010 Sep; 24(9): 552–556. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2948765/
- Zhang, Y et al. “Antibacterial activity and mechanism of cinnamon essential oil against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.” Food Control. 2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713515300219
- Morin, M et al. “Green tea extract and its major constituent epigallocatechin-3-gallate inhibit growth and halitosis-related properties of Solobacterium moorei.” BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015; 15: 48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415245/
- Young A et al. “The oral anti-volatile sulphur compound effects of zinc salts and their stability constants.” Eur J Oral Sci. 2002 Feb;110(1):31-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11878757