Expert Advice

How can I prevent bad breath?

Germ fighters and digestion aids can make your mouth smell sweet.

How can I prevent bad breath?
Pin it Katherine Streeter

A dentist says: While gum disease, cavities and poor dental hygiene can contribute to bad breath (aka halitosis), bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth cause 90 percent to 95 percent of all cases. When these germs metabolize proteins in your saliva, the byproduct is foul-smelling sulfur gases that create bad breath.
The treatment: Reduce the number of germs in your mouth with a mouthwash made from the antiseptic herbs cloves, basil, rosemary or thyme: Combine a quarter teaspoon of the herb with 2 cups of hot water, steep for 20 minutes, strain and gargle with the mixture twice a day. You can also add a couple drops of antiseptic tea tree oil to the dab of toothpaste on your brush and scrub your teeth and tongue with the mixture. If bad breath persists, eliminate the sulfur gases in your mouth with mouthwashes made with zinc and sodium chlorite. — Susanne Cohen, D.D.S., CEO of Triumph Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis

A dietitian says: Unhealthy processed foods can affect your liver’s natural detoxifying process; the liver produces bile that helps the body excrete impurities. If the liver is overworked (i.e., by a poor diet) these toxins don’t get eliminated and, as a result, release smelly byproducts into the bloodstream, which then travel to the lungs where they are exhaled.
The treatment: For starters, limit the amount of processed foods in your diet. Leafy greens, wheatgrass, parsley and cilantro contain chlorophyll, which helps the liver detoxify, so either add them to your meal or chew on a handful after eating. Wash them down with a glass of water with lemon. Water helps flush toxins out of the liver, and lemon stimulates bile production, which helps your body digest food. Reduce the germs in your mouth by eating foods rich in antibacterial zinc or vitamin C, such as citrus. — Mary Purdy, R.D., integrative clinical nutritionist at Seattle Healing Arts Center

A naturopathic doctor says: Just as rotting food in your refrigerator gives off odor, undigested food in your digestive tract releases putrid gases that can be eliminated through your mouth.
The treatment: Digestive enzymes help your body process food more efficiently so it doesn’t linger in your digestive tract; look for a broad spectrum, plant-based enzyme product. Or try probiotics to boost the good bacteria that help your gut better digest food: Choose products with 20 billion colony-forming units of mixed strains of lactobacillus and bifido bacteria. You can also chew on a few fennel and anise seeds before or after a meal—both are carminative herbs, meaning they help with digestion. Or take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar about 15 minutes before eating. The vinegar mimics the hydrochloric acid in your stomach that helps your body digest protein. — Aimée Shunney, N.D., Santa Cruz, Calif.-based naturopathic physician