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How to Cure Bad Breath

The words coming out of your mouth are sweet, so why does everyone cringe and back away when you speak to them? Your mother would say it was your imagination, but there might be a reason why you’re repelling your friends and colleagues: You could have a nasty case of halitosis or bad breath.

Simply put, bad breath is the result of odor-causing bacteria gorging and producing waste—or volatile sulfur compounds—in your mouth. Odor-causing bacteria are anaerobic, which means they don’t need oxygen to survive. Instead, they prefer a dry, airless environment. This is when a good dental regimen becomes important—an accumulation of plaque (the white film that appears on teeth, gums and tongues) can distort the mouth’s oxygen ratio, helping the bad guys flourish and making your breath rancid.

The bacterium that causes bad breath feeds on protein, and whether it finds its sustenance in a steak sandwich or the naturally occurring protein in your saliva, you can never fully remove its food source. There are foods other than meat, however, that can either provide a meal for odor-causing bacteria or a friendly environment for them to grow in. We’ve listed some of the most common offenders below.

Dairy

Cheese and other dairy products are typically high in protein, giving bacteria that cause bad breath a smorgasbord of material to turn into smelly waste.

Alcohol

Because alcohol is a drying agent, or desiccant, it slows down your mouth’s saliva production, helping to make a perfect environment for odor-causing bacteria to flourish.

Sugar

In a rancid-breath double whammy, sugar can both provide a food source for bacteria and give you a good start toward tooth decay.

Garlic

Garlic, with its high sulfur content, is one of the most notorious bad breath offenders around, and for good reason. When you eat it you will most certainly get bad breath, and it will perhaps even give a particularly nasty tinge to the smell of your sweat.

Smoking

Taking a hit from a cigarette dries out your mouth something fierce, which will make your mouth a great place for bacteria to thrive. Not only that, but the combination of more than 4,000 toxic chemicals in your mouth will cause a potent enough smell to drive away a skunk.

Breath-friendly foods aside, the No. 1 thing you can do to ensure that your breath is as sweet as your personality is to keep up a diligent oral regimen. This should include brushing (teeth, gums and tongue) and flossing. Let’s paint a picture for you of what bad breath might smell like on a larger scale: You know the smell old meat and vegetables get when you haven’t emptied your garbage in a few days? Imagine smaller pieces of leftover food particles getting just as rancid in your mouth.

If you already have bad breath, there are actions you can take that help you smell fresh and clean again. We’ve listed some cures for bad breath below.

Let’s give you some solid ways to combat bad breath in your everyday life:

Water

If you have halitosis, drinking a glass or two of water may go a long way toward freshening that pungent reek. Water can flush out food particles that remain in the mouth after meals, along with stimulating saliva production and generally making your mouth a cleaner, less attractive place for bacteria to grow.

Chlorophyll

When taken in liquid or capsule forms, chlorophyll—which is the pigment that makes plants green—is touted to be an effective internal deodorizer and breath freshener. Lacking a bottle of the stuff? Try munching on a few sprigs of fresh parsley.

Sugarless gum

The distinct lack of sugar in sugar-free gum will prevent the bad-breath bacteria in your mouth from gorging on sweets and making your breath worse.

Spices

Certain spices have long been known for their freshening qualities. Fennel, a spice whose taste bears a striking resemblance to licorice, is a centuries-old bad breath remedy. Cloves, anise, cardamom, peppermint, and coriander have also been known for their stench-fighting properties. There are many different ways to ingest these spices in an attempt to eradicate bad breath—from tea to gargles—but the easiest method is just popping a few pieces into your mouth and chewing them.

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Although it’s something that everyone will deal with, bad breath can be hugely embarrassing. Bad breath can also be a roadside marker to more serious conditions like diabetes or a mouth infection, and a raunchy smell emanating from the nasal cavity can be symptomatic of sinusitis.

If you think skipping a meal equates skipping over bad breath, you’re wrong. Fasting often goes hand-in-hand with saliva reduction, and for that reason, it’s a major halitosis encourager.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on mouthwash. The strong taste will mask bad breath for a while, but mouthwashes containing alcohol may dry your mouth and decrease your saliva production, potentially making your bad breath worse. If you must use mouthwash, try an antibacterial kind or one that contains chlorine dioxide.

Are you wondering if your own mouth could use some freshness? Don’t bother doing the old “blow into your hands and smell” trick. This doesn’t work because we grow accustomed to our own body’s odors, so you won’t be able to tell if your exhalations are particularly pungent. As much as you may not like to hear this, it’s best to swallow your pride and ask someone to sniff your breath for you.