Banish Bad Breath

Begin making bad breath good!

Suppose you conduct a “breath test” as you head to an important encounter, and you flunk. Don’t worry — the following fast fixes can help tame your wild-and-woolly breath. If odor-causing bacteria seem to be fond of your gums, tongue, and teeth, you’ll want to adopt some daily habits to inhibit these inhabitants. That’s when special rinses, attention to toothpaste, and faithful brushing and flossing can begin making bad breath good.

Take Emergency Measures

  • Dry mouth is a haven for the bacteria that cause bad breath. So find a tap, and swish the water around in your mouth. Water will temporarily dislodge bacteria and make your breath a bit more palatable.
  • At the end of your power lunch or romantic dinner, munch the sprig of parsley that’s left on your plate. Parsley is rich in chlorophyll, a known breath deodorizer with germ-fighting qualities.
  • If you can get your hands on an orange, peel and eat it. The citric acid it contains will stimulate your salivary glands and encourage the flow of breath-freshening saliva.
  • If there are no oranges in sight, eat whatever is available, except known breath-foulers like garlic, onions, or a stinky cheese. Eating encourages the flow of saliva, which helps remove the unpleasant, odor-causing material on the back of your tongue.
  • Vigorously scrape your tongue over your teeth. Your tongue can become coated with bacteria that ferment proteins, producing gases that smell bad. Scraping your tongue can dislodge these bacteria so you can rinse them away.
  • If you have a metal or plastic spoon, use it as a tongue scraper. To scrape safely, place the spoon on the back of your tongue and drag it forward. Repeat four or five times. Scrape the sides of the tongue as well, with the same back-to-front motion. Don’t push the spoon too far back, however; you may activate your gag reflex.

Raid the Spice Shelf

  • Cloves are rich in eugenol, a potent antibacterial. Simply pop one into your mouth and dent it with your teeth. The pungent aromatic oil may burn slightly, so keep that spicy nub moving. Continue to bite until the essence permeates your mouth, then spit it out. Don’t use clove oil or powdered cloves; they’re too strong and can cause burns.
  • Chew on fennel, dill, cardamom, or anise seeds. Anise, which tastes like black licorice, can kill the bacteria that grow on the tongue. The others can help mask the odor of halitosis.
  • Suck on a stick of cinnamon. Like cloves, cinnamon is effective as an antiseptic.

Choose Your Fresheners

    The most obvious brand-name products advertised as breath-fresheners are rarely, if ever, effective in the long run. But with a chlorine dioxide rinse, you can dismantle the sulfur compounds that are responsible for breath odor. These products are available both at your local drugstore and over the Internet. One brand, TheraBreath, is available at pharmacies. Another, ProFresh, can be purchased at

  • Use a toothpaste that contains tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. If you can’t find it in the pharmacy, look for it in health food stores.
  • Use an oral irrigator, which is a handheld device that rapidly pulses a small jet of water into your mouth, to flush out the bad bacteria, which can go deeper than a brush or floss string can reach.
  • Carry a toothbrush with you and brush immediately after every meal. With prompt brushing you thwart the development of plaque, the soft, sticky film that coats the teeth and gums.
  • To keep your toothbrush free of stink-triggering bacteria, store it, head down, in a lidded plastic tumbler of hydrogen peroxide. Rinse the brush well before you use it.
  • If you wear dentures, it’s possible that they are absorbing the bad odors in your mouth. Always soak them overnight in an antiseptic solution, unless your dentist has advised you otherwise.
  • Don’t skip meals. When you don’t eat for a long period of time, your mouth can get very dry. It becomes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
    Some things can sour your breath even if there are no bacteria in the neighborhood. These include cigarettes, alcohol, onions, garlic, and especially strong cheeses like Camembert, Roquefort, and blue cheese. In situations where sweet breath is a must, use the commonsense approach — just say no.
  • Ask your doctor if a medication could be fouling the air you expel. Any drug that dries out your mouth, thereby depriving it of saliva, is suspect. These include over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, diet pills, and prescription medications for depression and high blood pressure.

What’s Wrong?
People are backing away from you whenever you stop to talk with them. Or someone has told you frankly that you have bad breath. The most obvious cause: You’ve eaten a dish laced with onions, garlic, or blue cheese. But there are other reasons galore. Perhaps you’re a smoker or could it be that you don’t brush your teeth or floss often enough? Gum disease is another common cause of bad breath. If you have an abscessed tooth or a sinus infection, your unpleasant breath is most certainly a side effect. Rounding out the list of suspects: certain medications, a chronically dry mouth, or too many cups of coffee.

Should I Call the Doctor?
While all of us have malodorous breath from time to time, good oral hygiene should keep it to a minimum. But bad breath that hangs on can also be a sign of intestinal problems, cancer, or lung or kidney problems. If you brush and floss diligently, yet can’t banish bad breath on your own, place a call to your doctor or dentist. And see a doctor if your breath smells sweet or fruity, since that’s one sign of diabetes.

How to Sniff Out Bad Breath
Just how bad is your breath? To find out, cup your hands over your mouth, exhale heartily, and take a whiff. If your breath smells bad to you, it smells bad to others too. You can also perform the “sniff test”on dental floss after you pull it gently between your teeth. But if you think you might have become desensitized to your own bad breath, you can ask your dentist to test you with a halimeter. This device measures the sulfur content of your breath — which is what makes it smell bad.

Skip It!
It’s a common misconception that minty mouthwash or breath mints will turn your breath fresh. Not so. Most mouthwashes contain alcohol, which dries up saliva. When you use them, you actually make your breath worse afterward. And mint candy is just a cover-up; it actually feeds the odor-causing bacteria more sugar! For a natural mouthwash that won’t dry out your mouth, mix 1 tablespoon baking soda with 1 cup of a 2%- 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. The foam it kicks up has a powerful oxidizing effect that kills odoriferous bacteria.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest