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Banish bad breath with these tried and true remedies from our experts.
After indulging in some of your favorite healthy foods (like garlic bread, maybe?) or even drinking certain beverages, it’s expected that your breath is going to smell, well, off. But sometimes, the cause of your bad breath (a.k.a. halitosis, the medical term for chronic bad breath) isn’t so clear, which means it’s necessary to find ways on how to get rid of bad breath quickly and the reasons behind it.
Most times, bad breath is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria (strains that don’t need oxygen to survive) in saliva that produces foul-smelling, sulfurous compounds. Roughly half of adults have had bad breath at some point, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). “Bad breath is quite a common occurrence and happens to most people throughout their lifetime,” says Jeffrey Sulitzer, D.M.D., lead dentist and chief clinical officer for SmileDirectClub. “This can be caused by poor dental hygiene/habits, health conditions, and certain food or drinks,” he adds.
If your breath still smells bad, even after cutting back on specific foods and beverages, something more serious may be the culprit. “Generally, halitosis is a multifactorial diagnosis and a visit to your dentist can rule out gum disease and untreated cavities,” said Rhonda Kalasho, D.D.S., a double board-certified cosmetic dentist practicing in California, in a previous interview for Prevention.
If it turns out your mouth and teeth are not to blame, “you should visit your local dentist for advice in case it may be something more serious that may need professional diagnosis and treatment,” advises Dr. Sulitzer.
Ahead, we’re sharing 10 expert-approved ways to get rid of bad breath.
While this might seem a bit obvious, experts still want you to know that this is a must! “Brush your teeth in the morning and at night, as well as after meals. This can help get rid of any plaque buildup or food stuck in your teeth that may contribute to the smell of your breath,” says Dr. Sulitzer. If you work in an office, it’s a good idea to keep a toothbrush with you at work, so you can brush right after eating. Opt for toothpaste picks that contain fluoride, an ingredient that the Mayo Clinic claims has antibacterial properties shown to reduce bad breath odors.
Tip: The Mayo Clinic recommends changing your electric toothbrush heads (or regular toothbrush) every three to four months. This will help keep you safe from bacteria building up on your toothbrush.
“You should avoid any food or drink that would lead to bad breath. Common culprits include onions, garlic, dairy, coffee, and alcohol,” says Dr. Sulitzer. You should also steer clear of sugar to help prevent bad breath. “Snacking on sweets provides waves of sugar that cause spikes in bacterial growth,” says Salvador Nares, D.D.S., department head and professor at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry.
“Incorporate water flossers into your cleansing routine to ensure any pesky, hidden food stuck in your teeth is removed,” says Dr. Sulitzer. A water flosser (aka oral irrigator) is a health appliance designed for dental care at home. It works by using a targeted stream of water to remove plaque, food particles, and bacteria in a way that’s more comfortable and easier than traditional string floss. “Water flossers can be more effective than traditional floss,” adds Dr. Sulitzer.
Bad breath can be due to a buildup of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth, according to the Mayo Clinic. So dentists recommend using a mouthwash that works to kill the bacteria. OTC dry-mouth rinses also help fight bad breath by moistening the mouth via ingredients like hydroxyethylcellulose (a natural sugar found in plants) and glycerin (an ingredient derived from vegetables or animal fats). Some also contain agents such as chlorine dioxide (an ingredient for disinfection) and zinc salts (a vital ingredient for the body) to reduce odor. “Avoid rinses containing mouth-drying alcohol,” says Cheryl Mora, D.D.S., a board-certified dentist in Chicago and a member of the American Dental Association
“Make sure to stay hydrated. As a more unknown cause, dehydration can be a big contribution to sour-smelling breath,” says Dr. Sulitzer. Saliva contains bacteria, but it also helps wash bacteria from the mouth. A dry mouth lets offensive microbes stick around, giving them more opportunity to release malodorous compounds. Drink more water throughout the day to maintain saliva flow, this is especially important for older adults, as mouths tend to get drier with age.
Your tongue harbors bacteria, so carefully brushing it can reduce odors. People who have a coated tongue from a significant overgrowth of bacteria (from smoking or dry mouth) may benefit from using a tongue scraper, according to the Mayo Clinic. Use a toothbrush or a tongue cleaner to scrape your tongue every time you brush, especially at the back, where bacteria are most likely to accumulate due to the rougher surface and lack of cleansing friction from contact with other mouthparts.
There are also a few home remedies you can find in your kitchen to help stop and prevent bad breath. “Adding more fruits and veggies to your diet can help you avoid bad breath. Produce including apples, celery, and carrots can keep that bad-smelling breath at bay,” says Dr. Sulitzer.
“Diluting apple cider vinegar in some water and gargling for a few seconds can also help you avoid any foul-smelling breath. The acidity of the apple cider vinegar aids in breaking down the food you eat,” explains Dr. Sulitzer.
If you wear removable dentures, it’s a good idea to clean them frequently to prevent bacteria from growing and causing foul odors. The ADA recommends taking them out every night and cleaning them with a denture cleanser before using them again the following day.
Tip: “Avoid cleaning your dentures using regular toothpaste because they are too abrasive for most dentures,” said Dr. Shay in a previous interview for Prevention. “These pastes can damage your dentures to the point that they don’t fit properly, which will cause sore gums,” he adds.
No matter how faithful you are with brushing and flossing, bacteria can still build up and form tartar, hardened deposits that can be removed only with a professional cleaning. See your dentist—who will also check for signs of gum disease, a potentially more severe source of foul breath, at least twice a year.