If your mate or colleagues start inquiring about getting your mouth declared "endangered swamplands," don't take it too personally. After all, bad breath hits just about everyone sometime--and, unfortunately, everyone around us as well. "There are so many causes of bad breath, literally dozens of them, that it is occasionally difficult to pinpoint," says Joseph Tonzetich, Ph.D., professor of oral biology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Fact is, just about anything we put in our mouths, from antihistamines and other drugs to food and drink, can make your breath smell a tad uglier. Stress, sinus problems, mouth sores, talking, even our hormones
can intensify bad breath. But breathe easy, folks, because here's how to kiss that nasty halitosis goodbye.
Eat an orange. "Some cases of bad breath--particularly those caused by stress and taking drugs--are the result of your mouth being too dry," says Dr. Tonzetich. "Citrus fruits and other foods high in citric acid are very good at stimulating saliva. The acid also helps suppress the activity of some odor-causing enzymes, while the 'tangy' taste of lemons, oranges and grapefruit helps freshen your mouth."
Be a picker. "Probably one of the best ways to control bad breath is to use an oral irrigation device such as a Water Pik to 'irrigate' your teeth," says Fred G. Fedok, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at University Hospital of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey. "Using a Water Pik helps remove food and other debris that cause a lot of bad breath."
Try the baking soda solution. You can add extra punch to your Water Pik by using a baking soda solution to clean your teeth. "You can brush on baking soda with a toothbrush and then rinse with water or use your Water Pik," says Dr. Fedok. "Or what I really recommend is mixing baking soda with warm water, pouring that solution into the Water Pik and using it to irrigate your teeth and mouth."
According to Dr. Fedok, "Baking soda is a great remedy for bad breath, because it changes the pH in your mouth and makes it a less friendly environment for many bacteria." He adds that baking soda is especially helpful to those with bad breath caused by gingivitis.
Brush your tongue. "Perhaps the most overlooked way of eliminating bad breath is to brush the top surface of the tongue when you brush your teeth," says Dr. Tonzetich. "Although there are many causes of bad breath, usually the odor arises from the surface of the tongue." That's because the tongue is covered with microscopic, hairlike projections that trap and harbor plaque and food, says Eric Shapira, D.D.S., assistant clinical professor and lecturer at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Francisco. A daily, gentle brushing (including the top of your tongue) unlodges these odorous particles.
Or give it a wipe. Don't have a toothbrush handy? Not to worry. "Simply take a hanky or a piece of gauze and give your tongue a good wiping," advises David S. Halpern, D.M.D., a dentist in Columbia, Maryland, and a spokesdentist for the Academy of General Dentistry. "Even a quick wipe is good for removing the coating on your tongue that can cause bad breath."
Clean your sinuses. Since bad breath can be caused by any number of sinus problems, some people get relief by "washing" out the area inside your nose where the sinuses drain, says Dr. Fedok. If you want to try it, use a saline solution in a blue-ball syringe--the kind used to clean out ears. (Both the solution and the syringe are available at most pharmacies.) "You'll have to refill the syringe several times. Spray the saline up each nostril, letting the solution drain out the other nostril and your mouth. It may take up to a pint of saline to wash out your sinuses," says Dr. Fedok.
Use the right mouthwash. Just about any type of mouthwash will temporarily mask the odors of bad breath--usually for about 20 minutes. But to eliminate the foul smell with the efficiency of Rambo in a bad mood, choose a mouthwash that contains zinc. "Zinc has a tendency to do a lot of things to inhibit the production of sulfur compounds that cause bad breath," says Dr. Tonzetich. "And zinc mouthwashes don't taste as metallic as copper-containing oral products."
Eat breakfast. Miss breakfast and it's a good bet you may have tainted breath all morning long, adds Dr. Tonzetich. "You usually have tainted breath until you take in some food," he says. "A lot of people who go without breakfast have bad breath at least until lunchtime."
Complete your dining with water Gargling
. Whether you're having a quick snack or a multicourse meal, a water chaser is the ideal after-dining drink. "Swishing a mouthful of water is a great way to get rid of odors caused by food and drink," says Dr. Halpern.
This is especially recommended after having coffee, tea, soft drinks which can leave a residue that can attach to plaque in your mouth causing bad breath.
Settle your stomach. Indigestion or stomach problems can cause you to burp, expelling foul gaseous odors, says Dr. Halpern. To relieve this problem, take antacids to settle your stomach.
Chew your "greens." Besides being instant breath fresheners, parsley and wintergreen also release pleasant aromatic substances into the lungs. The result: They'll be freshening your breath some 24 hours later, adds Dr. Bogdasarian.
Watch your diet. Some research indicates that a high-fat diet may contribute to bad breath. The theory is that certain fats-particularly those in cheeses, butter, whole milk and fatty meats--may contain certain aromatic substances that we metabolize and exhale, says Dr. Bogdasarian. If other causes of bad breath have been eliminated, try cutting back on deli meats and dairy products and replacing them with more carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Know your medications. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs contribute to bad breath by having a "drying" effect on the mouth. That's because saliva, being slightly acidic, normally suppresses bacteria. But some drugs cause saliva to dry up. When it does, the bacteria in your mouth start reproducing like rabbits in springtime. Antihistamines, decongestants, anti-anxiety drugs, diuretics and certain heart medications lead the list of drugs that have a mouth-drying effect. If you're taking any of these drugs, be sure to increase your intake of water. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candies will also keep saliva flowing.