Expert Advice

How can I beat bad breath?

Freshen your mouth with herbs and simple dietary changes.

How can I beat bad breath?
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a DENTIST says:
Bad breath—also called halitosis—can be caused by tiny food particles that get trapped in your teeth and gums and attract bacteria (known as plaque). The first step to a fresh mouth is to floss daily and brush your teeth and tongue (with a toothbrush or tongue scraper) twice a day. In addition, use a mouthwash that carries the American Dental Association seal-this ensures the product will kill germs, not just mask odors. Dry mouth due to dehydration, sleeping with your mouth open, or taking prescription medications like antidepressants can also lead to bad breath because a lack of saliva promotes the growth of bacteria. (This is why morning breath is so common.) Chew sugarless gum-it will cover odors and increase your saliva production. If bad breath persists, you should see your dentist.
—Kimberly A. Harms, D.D.S., a practicing dentist in Farmington, Minn., and spokesperson for the American Dental Association

Eat crunchy foods
like apples, carrots, or celery after meals-they help scrape plaque off teeth. Instead of avoiding garlic, which can help lower cholesterol but can cause bad breath, chew on spearmint, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, or eucalyptus for 30 to 60 seconds afterward to freshen your mouth. Book an appointment with a nutritionist to pinpoint exactly which foods are triggering your halitosis-and how to eliminate them safely from your diet. Sometimes bad breath is caused by an underlying medical condition such as acid reflux or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining). You can help manage these conditions by having smaller, more frequent meals and waiting three hours after eating before going to bed or taking a nap. If symptoms like heartburn, belching, or nausea persist, see your doctor.
—Keri M. Gans, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and host of Diet Diva, a weekly public access television show in New York City

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, bad breath is caused by excess heat in the stomach that eventually affects the oral cavity. To rebalance your body, you should avoid milk, coffee, alcohol, sugar, and spicy or fried foods, which can disrupt your normal enzyme and acid levels, thus generating heat. If, after eliminating these foods from your diet, your bad breath persists, you can also take activated charcoal tablets. Charcoal is a popular folk remedy: It can bind to some of the odor-producing sulfur compounds in foods and fluids and remove them from your body. Follow the dosage on the bottle-usually it's two capsules after a meal. Acupuncture also helps treat bad breath by balancing body heat. A licensed acupuncturist can develop a personalized treatment program for you.
—Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac., coauthor of Between Heaven and Earth (Ballantine, 1992) and the website