How to get rid of bad breath

How to get rid of bad breath

By ​​Benjamin Renelus, MD Dec 26, 2023 • 6 min.

One out of every 4 people around the world has halitosis, or bad breath. If you’re one of them, the issue could be due to a number of factors. After determining what’s contributing to halitosis, you can explore various remedies to address the problem and promote better-smelling breath.

Understanding the causes of bad breath

Most often, bad breath stems from oral sources, such as periodontal disease like gingivitis or poor oral hygiene that leads to a buildup of bacteria and food debris on the teeth, gums and tongue. These microbes can give off a foul odor that we detect as bad breath. 

Some other potential bad breath causes include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Chronic medical conditions, like liver disease, kidney disease and Sjorgen’s syndrome
  • Dry mouth
  • Eating foods that contain aromatic compounds
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Infections in the mouth, nose, throat or lungs
  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Tonsil stones

How to address bad breath

Since poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of halitosis, self-care is often an effective way to address the problem. Follow these tips to help freshen your breath:

1. Practice good oral hygiene

Taking good care of your teeth, gums and tongue can go a long way toward eliminating and preventing bad breath:

  • Brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice daily
  • Use a tongue cleaner or brush your tongue with a toothbrush
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months
  • Floss once per day
  • Visit your dental care provider regularly for checkups and cleanings
  • Clean your dentures and other removable dental appliances, like retainers and mouth guards, at least once per day

2. Use mouthwash for bad breath

Mouthwash can help improve bad breath, but it’s important to choose a product carefully. Generally, alcohol-free mouthwashes that contain antibacterial ingredients are a good option, but you should ask your oral healthcare provider about which type is right for you. In some cases, a prescription-strength mouth rinse may be beneficial. 

3. Modify your diet

Certain foods and drinks can increase the risk of bad breath, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages
  • Garlic
  • Onions

Cutting back on your intake of problematic foods and drinks may help support fresher breath.

4. Quit using tobacco

Cigarettes and other tobacco products stain teeth, leaving behind residues that may contribute to bad breath. In addition, smoking or using other types of tobacco puts you at an increased risk for gum disease, increasing the risk of halitosis. 

If you’re ready to quit, there are prescription medications and nicotine replacement therapy products available to help you deal with cravings. Talk to your healthcare provider about smoking cessation treatments.

5. Dry mouth remedies

Dry mouth occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough saliva, the natural substance that hydrates and cleanses your mouth. Smoking, as well as certain medications and medical conditions, can lead to dry mouth, and bad breath is a common symptom of dry mouth. 

If you have dry mouth, your dentist or hygienist may recommend a variety of treatments, such as:

  • Mouth rinses for dry mouth, which are available over the counter and with a prescription
  • Sugar-free chewing gum that contains xylitol
  • Over-the-counter saliva substitutes, like carboxymethylcellulose and hydroxyethyl cellulose 
  • Prescription medications, like pilocarpine and cevimeline, which help increase saliva production

These over-the-counter and prescription products can help keep your mouth moisturized, ease bad breath and reduce other symptoms of dry mouth, such as difficulty swallowing, altered taste perception and mouth discomfort.

6. Get care for gum disease

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is an infection of the gums that most often arises due to poor oral hygiene. Persistent bad breath is a common symptom. Other symptoms include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Pain while chewing
  • Receding gums
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • Tooth sensitivity

Gum disease is very common. In fact, nearly half of all adults suffer from the condition. Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss. The condition has also been linked to an increased risk for other medical conditions, like heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

If you have symptoms of gum disease, see your dentist. Treatments like scaling, root planing, antibiotics and dental surgery can help address symptoms of gum disease, including bad breath.

Finding the right bad breath remedy

The first step toward getting rid of bad breath is finding out what’s causing your symptoms, and that means discussing halitosis with your healthcare provider. They can conduct an examination and explore elements of your diet and lifestyle that may be contributing to the problem. They can also recommend remedies and treatment options that are the best fit for your needs.

Published December 2023.

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