By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
These days I do a lot of traveling, speaking, and meeting new people. Check my calendar on any given day, and you’ll probably find a conference, business meeting, or dinner in my not-so-distant future.
At this point in my career, I’m a pretty savvy player in these environments. Still, I always want to make a good impression. And as part of that, I’m not afraid to admit that I’ll occasionally make sure I don’t have bad breath (especially when I’m lecturing, since a lot of talking can dry out the mouth).
Why am I telling you this?
Because sometimes embarrassing health problems like bad breath are easier to talk about when someone else starts the conversation. So let’s do that—by looking at what causes bad breath, and most importantly, how you can get rid of it.
What Causes Bad Breath?
If you only have bad breath once in awhile, the first suspect I’d look at is your diet. Some foods, like onion and garlic (two of my favorite flavor enhancers), are notorious for causing bad breath—not to mention an occasional argument between spouses who have differing tolerances for them!
Fortunately, this problem is easily solved. If you can identify which foods cause you problems, just avoid them in social settings.
On the other hand, chronic halitosis—the medical name for bad breath—is almost always caused by an imbalance in the body. Usually it’s one that affects the bacteria in your mouth, but bad breath can also originate lower in the gut.
Some of the more common causes include:
- Infections and poor oral hygiene, which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria
- Dry mouth, a condition in which you don’t have enough saliva to neutralize acids, remove dead cells, and keep bacteria balanced
- Stomach ulcers, and more specifically, an overgrowth of H. pylori—the bug responsible for causing them (if you eat out a lot, you may be at higher risk for this)
- Too many sulfur-producing bacteria
- Medications, which often cause dry mouth as a side effect
How NOT to Get Rid of Bad Breath
Knowing what causes your bad breath will help you choose the best way to get rid of it. If you’re not sure, you may need to try a few different options before you find one that solves the problem.
A couple things you shouldn’t rely on, though, are breath mints and mouthwashes.
Many breath mints, as well as gums, are loaded with sugar to make them taste good. According to the nutrition facts label on Altoids® mints, which a lot of people use to freshen their breath, just three of them contain two grams of sugar (not to mention artificial color and flavoring). Just imagine what that’s doing to your body if you pop a few of those every couple hours!
I dislike sugar for a lot of reasons—but in this case, it’s because the sugar in breath mints can actually cause bad bacteria to grow even more. So you’re not really solving your problem with these products. You’re making sure you’ll continue to need them.
(Don’t think artificial sweeteners are any better, either. The only one I’d be willing to let go is Xylitol, but that’s only if the product doesn’t include other artificial ingredients.)
Most mouthwashes kill odor-producing bacteria with alcohol. The problem is that they kill all of the good bacteria in your mouth at the same time. You don’t want that, either.
Effective Natural Remedies for Bad Breath
You’ll find much healthier options for getting rid of bad breath at your grocery and health food stores. Here are five of my favorites:
Chew Spices and Herbs to Freshen Your Breath
One cause of bad breath is having too many sulfur-producing bacteria in your mouth. We all have these bacteria. Some of us have more than others, though, plus conditions like dry mouth can increase how active these bugs are.
You can neutralize the compounds these bacteria produce by chewing on herbs that kill bad bacteria in your mouth. There are a lot of options, so you should find something to your taste. Choose from peppermint, sage, eucalyptus, cloves, fennel seeds, parsley, and cinnamon. It’s best to chew a raw form of the herb.
Gargle a Mixture of Water and Essential Oils
Gargling with diluted essential oils gives you some of the same benefits that you get from chewing herbs and spices. Simply add a few drops of essential oils to a cup of water. Gargle the solution for about 20 seconds, three times a day, to get rid of bad breath.
Some of the most effective oils include peppermint, tea tree and lemon oils. One group of researchers got excellent results by combining all three.
Drink a Cup of Green Tea
Just when you didn’t think green tea could have any more health benefits, it turns up on my list of remedies for bad breath!
The polyphenols in this do-it-all health food have also been shown to neutralize the sulfur in saliva, eliminating bad breath. Drinking green tea can also improve other aspects of your oral health. There’s even some research suggesting it can even help prevent oral cancer.
Add Probiotics to Your Diet
A lot of people forget that, technically, the mouth is part of the digestive tract—and if you have a bacterial imbalance further down that passageway, it can affect your breath.
A good solution for this is probiotics—either in supplement form or as probiotic foods. Kefir and unsweetened organic Greek yogurt are two of my favorites. I also love the PAMM diet as a way of addressing this problem. It’s a sure bet that it will increase your fiber intake, and fiber is virtual smorgasbord for good gut bacteria.
One thing to keep in mind with probiotics is that they won’t have an immediate effect on your breath like an herb might. Give them a couple of weeks to make a difference.
While we’re on the topic of GI troubles, acid reflux can also affect your breath. For help with that, check out some of my natural heartburn remedies.
Chew Sugar-Free Eucalyptus Gum
I don’t typically recommend chewing gum because so many of them are loaded with sugar and synthetic chemicals. However, I’m willing to make an exception in this case because studies have shown that chewing eucalyptus-flavored gum can be helpful with bad breath—and because there are a few sugar-free brands available.
Eucalyptus has a strong natural scent that will mask odor, but it also works on the sulfur compounds produced by too many of the wrong bacteria. Just read product labels to make sure the gum isn’t also dosing you with a lot of unwanted artificial ingredients.
Lastly, if you smoke or use chewing tobacco, quit. Both have a strong influence on breath. Also, check in with yourself a few times a day to see if you’re breathing through your mouth. That will dry you out and cause the sulfur-producing bacteria to be more active.
There you have it, my secrets for getting rid of bad breath. Combine one or two of them with a confident handshake and positive intention, and the next time you’re in a social setting, the only thing you’ll have to worry about coming out of your mouth are words.
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- Li My, Wang J, and Xu ZT. Effect of a variety of Chinese herbs and an herb-containing dentifrice on volatile sulfur compounds associated with halitosis: An in vitro analysis. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2010;71(2):129–40.
- Muniz FW, et al. The impact of chewing gum on halitosis parameters: a systematic review. J Breath Res. 2017;11(1):014001.
- Oh KE, Song AR, and Sok SR. Effects of aroma gargling, cold water gargling, and wet gauze application on thirst, halitosis, and sore throat of patients after spine surgery. Holist Nurs Pract. 2017;31(4):253–259.
- Silva Mf, et al. Estimated prevalence of halitosis: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Clin Oral Investig. 2017;1:1–9.
- Singhal K, et al. Probable benefits of green tea with genetic implications. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2017;21(1):107–114.
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