Don't let the commercials fool you: Covering up bad breath with a spearmint-flavored wad of gum doesn't make for a kiss-worthy mouth. Bad breath is a symptom of bacteria in the oral cavity and often a result of gum disease (which affects three in four Americans), according to cosmetic dentist Joseph Banker, of Creative Dental Care in New Jersey. No wonder it's a first-date deal breaker for 86 percent of U.S. adults, according to one recent survey.
Here's how to treat—not just flavor—your bad breath.
Clean Up Your Routine It doesn't matter how much you whiten: If you don't brush and floss, then your pearly whites will still be rank. "Poor oral hygiene is the biggest culprit of bad breath," Banker says. Besides brushing and flossing (at least twice a day), a tongue scraper can be clutch in ridding your mouth of food debris and germs that can contribute to bad breath. If you can't remember your last dentist visit, a simple cleaning may be enough to set things right.
Nix Your Vices While coffee, alcohol, and cigarette breath are less than sexy on their own, some vices can stink things up for hours after you get your fix. "Coffee and alcohol are both responsible for causing a decrease in salivary flow," Banker says. "Saliva is needed to cleanse debris from the mouth and to flush away odor-producing bacteria." While cigarettes can also dry your mouth, the chemicals found in them can foster the growth of bacteria, gum disease, and oral cancer, all of which are linked to gnarly breath.
Eat Right Put in good foods and good breath will come out. "Fibrous vegetables, especially crunchy ones, can help mechanically clean debris off of the teeth," Banker says. Think of them like edible toothbrushes. Meanwhile, water flushes debris from your mouth, keeps the body hydrated, and rids the body of toxins, all of which can prevent your breath from going bad to begin with.
Get an Rx Unpleasant breath can be part of a larger oral-health issue like gum disease or infections, Banker says. Your dentist can prescribe antibiotics or target problem areas with laser treatments to eliminate odor-causing bacteria. Since dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications and some people are just genetically predisposed to periodontal disease, treatment may extend beyond a run-of-the-mill cleaning.
Seek a Second Opinion Sometimes, a D.D.S. isn't the man for the job—an M.D. is. If your dentist can't find the cause for your bad breath, visit your primary-care physician. "Bad breath can be an indicator of systemic problems ranging from diabetes to kidney or liver failure," Banker says. Or you might need to brush a little longer a couple more times a day. And no, you can't just talk out of the side of your mouth from now on.
—K. Aleisha Fetters