Bad breath strikes us all at some time. Here are a few facts to chew on.
Most bad breath, or halitosis, happens when certain bacteria that live on the tongue and gums feed on food traces, burping out smelly volatile sulphur compounds, such as hydrogen sulfide (that’s the rotten egg smell). Some foods help to create a breeding ground for these bacteria - while others have the reverse effect.
The good stuff
Unsweetened yoghurt with active cultures can help neutralise sulphur compounds, suggests Dr Peter Alldritt, chairman of the Australian Dental Association’s oral health committee.
Chewing crunchy foods like apples, carrots and celery not only helps to dislodge food stuck between your teeth, but also stimulates saliva production. Saliva helps to neutralise acids and bacteria in the mouth, as well as keeping it moist.
Research suggests foods high in vitamin C can create an inhospitable environment for mouth bacteria. Other vitamin C-rich foods include berries, kiwifruit and melons. A diet that’s rich in vitamin C is also is important for preventing gum disease and gingivitis - both major causes of bad breath.
“When you eat, your mouth becomes quite acidic because of the bacteria breaking down the food and creating acid,” says Dr Alldritt, explaining that acids can contribute to bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay.
Drinking plenty of water also helps dilute volatile sulphur compounds, adds Professor Mark Bartold from the University of Adelaide.
What to look out for
Sugary mints may make your mouth feel fresh, but underneath that fresh taste, the sugar promotes a layer of plaque on your teeth and gums. This creates a ripe breeding ground for more bad-breath producing bacteria. Sugarless gum is a better option as it aids production of saliva and helps to loosen any trapped food particles while masking any breath odours.
Onions and garlic
These cause longer-lasting odour issues because they contain sulphuric compounds that not only linger in the mouth, but are absorbed into the bloodstream too. These later get secreted out, including through the pores in your skin and your breath when you exhale. This can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a day. The only option is to drink lots of water and attempt to mask this smell by chewing sugarless gum.
Eggs, fish and meatad
High-protein foods like fish, meat and eggs can also contribute to bad breath, as the bacteria in the mouth feed on proteins.
Alcohol, as well as having a strong smell of its own, dries out the mouth, creating a rich breeding ground for bad-breath bacteria.
Coffee is a drink with a strong odour and it is also dehydrating, so there’s less saliva to flush away harmful bacteria. “You’ll get more bacterial build-up on your teeth and gums in a dry mouth,” explains Dr Alldritt.
Some prescription medications dry out the mouth. Without saliva to flush away bacteria, bad breath can result. If you’re concerned, check with your doctor, and sip water throughout the day.
Did you know?
The majority of the mouth bacteria that cause bad breath reside on the rough, bumpy surface of the tongue. This rough surface creates a breeding ground for these sulphur-puffing bacteria.
Dr Alldritt recommends scraping or cleaning your tongue with the back of a toothbrush (many have a special tongue cleaner these days) as part of your twice-daily brushing and flossing routine.
Persistent bad breath may signal a deeper health issue (from gut health to diabetes), so see your dentist or your doctor.