What is Bad Breath?
Bad breath (halitosis) is a condition characterized by consistent unpleasant breath odor.
Many conditions, such as postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, uncontrolled diabetes, respiratory tract infection, liver or kidney disease, and digestive disorders such as acid reflux can cause bad breath. In the majority of people with bad breath, however, the problem is in the mouth and is often caused by improper dental hygiene, periodontal disease or dry mouth.
What causes the actual odor? Food particles and dead cells in the mouth collect bacteria which thrive in enviroments that lack oxygen, such as the back of the tongue and deep gum pockets. These bacteria produce odor-causing volatile sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulfide.
Home Remedies for Bad Breath
Brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily can help to remove odor-causing bacteria. Before trying any natural remedies for bad breath, it's important to visit your dentist to have your teeth examined and cleaned. If a cause isn't identified, consult your doctor for further investigation. Here are some home remedies to consider:
- Drink tea. Preliminary research suggests that compounds in both green and black tea called polyphenols may stop the growth of bacteria responsible for bad breath. Polyphenols may also prevent existing bacteria from producing malodorous compounds such as hydrogen sulfide. Both green and black tea have polyphenols. Get some tips on how to brew green tea.
- Try a mouthwash containing zinc ions. Zinc appears to directly neutralize malodorous sulfur compounds and improve breath. It's found in several health food store mouthwashes as well as some drug store brands.
- Use a tongue scraper, which helps to remove dead cells, food particles and bacteria from the tongue. A tongue scaper is a special plastic instrument found in drug stores and some health food stores, that costs several dollars. In Ayurveda, a thick coating on the tongue is called "ama" and is thought to be caused by improper or incomplete digestion. Tongue cleaning with a scaper is recommended as a daily regimen to remove ama. The key is to do it gently and to rinse your mouth thoroughly afterward. If you can't find a tongue scraper, use a toothbrush to clean your tongue.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking water and other fluids will help keep your mouth moist. Another reason drinking fluids might help: In traditional Chinese medicine, bad breath is often the result of excess heat in the stomach. Water, soup and watery fruits and vegetables, such as cucumber, are thought to help to rebalance the body.
- According to traditional Chinese medicine, bitter foods, such as Belgian endive and many dark green leafy vegetables are also believed to help stomach heat. Certain foods, such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, milk and fried or spicy foods are thought to worsen the problem.
- Snack on crunchy fruits and vegetables such as apples, celery, carrots or jicama. Crunchy foods can help remove food, bacteria and plaque from teeth.
- Try a mouthwash that contains essential oils. Preliminary studies suggest that essential oils, which are plant oils, may help to reduce bad breath. One study compared an essential oil mouthwash containing tea tree oil, peppermint oil and lemon oil to a standard mouthwash and found that the level of volatile sulfur compounds was significantly less after the essential oil mouthwash compared to the conventional mouthwash. It's best to use a commercially-prepared product (check the health food store) rather than buying essential oils and making your own mouthwash. If in doubt, consult your dentist.
- Use herbs to freshen your breath. Chew on a small sprig of fresh rosemary, parsley, spearmint, or tarragon for up to a minute.
- Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol. Alcohol can dry out the mouth, which contributes to bad breath.
- Get help managing stress. Many people have bad breath that doesn't have a clearly identifiable cause. One small preliminary study found that in healthy young men with good oral hygiene and general health, stress increased the production of volatile sulfur compounds in the mouth. To learn specific relaxation techniques, go to my section on mind/body techniques. Also, find out about natural remedies for anxiety.
Calil CM, Marcondes FK. Influence of anxiety on the production of oral volatile sulfur compounds. Life Sci. (2006) 79.7:660-664.
Hur MH, Park J, Maddock-Jennings W, Kim DO, Lee MS. Reduction of mouth malodour and volatile sulphur compounds in intensive care patients using an essential oil mouthwash. Phytother Res. (2007) 21.7: 641-643.
Food Navigator.com. Tea Beats Halitosis. 26/23/2003. Accessed February 7, 2008.