Suspect you may have less-than-fresh breath? You’re not alone. According to the American Dental Association, 50% of the population has suffered from bad breath, or halitosis, at some point in their life. Awkward and embarrassing, it can trigger a crisis of self-confidence for many, while for others bad breath may in fact indicate an underlying health concern.
But what exactly is it that causes bad breath? Why is it only an occasional inconvenience for some, while for others it’s a persistent problem? To get to the root of the issue, read on. We’ve rounded up the most common causes of bad breath and provided some simple steps to give it the kiss off – once and for all.
What causes bad breath?
While various health and lifestyle factors can contribute to bad breath, halitosis typically occurs when natural bacteria in the mouth break down trapped food particles on the tongue and between the teeth, releasing a pungent gas1. As regular brushing and flossing should keep these food particles at bay, bad breath is often – but not always – a sign of poor oral hygiene. It can also be an indicator of gum disease or tooth decay, so don’t ignore it.
As with most things, diet also has a role to play, and certain foods and drinks can make things go phew-whiff. Healthy and delicious they may be, but onion and garlic are two key culprits. This is due to the fact they contain smelly sulfuric compounds that get metabolised, absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted through the breath and pores. (We’ve all been next to THAT person in spin class.)
In more unwelcome news, coffee and alcohol could also be making you less kissable. This is because of both their strong smell (coffee in particular) and ability to reduce saliva production. Why does this matter? Well, as well as helping you swallow, saliva plays an important role in flushing out leftover food particles and – you guessed it – banishing bad breath-causing bacteria.
But what if your diet is saintly and your oral hygiene is impeccable, but your breath is still on the nose? Bad breath can also be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, sinusitis, tonsilitis, acid reflux, or liver or kidney problems. It also tends to accompany dry mouth (xerostomia) – a condition that can be triggered by chronic mouth breathing or medication.
Another final factor should probably go without saying, but we’ll spell it out to avoid any confusion. Tobacco is a major cause of bad breath, not to mention gum disease and other health problems. Our advice? If you haven’t already, butt out!
How to tell if you have bad breath
The problem with bad breath is that it’s quite tricky to smell your own. And, since most of us would rather eat live worms than tell someone they have it, chances are nobody will tell YOU if you’re the one emitting the offputting odour…
Fear not, however, as there is a pretty simple and foolproof way to test things out. Simply roll up your sleeve, lick the back of your wrist and sniff – if you dare.
How to get rid of bad breath
Whether your bad breath is caused by a 5-a-day coffee addiction or slapdash dental routine, the following steps will help sweeten the situation.
Look at your diet and lifestyle
If your bad breath is triggered by tobacco, quitting smoking will have an immediate positive impact. Not only will your breath, clothes and hair smell better, you’ll gradually regain your sense of smell and taste. And save a lot of money!
You should also limit alcohol and coffee consumption if bothered by bad breath, and avoid eating onions, garlic or other alliums the night before an important meeting, or on the same day as a hot date.
Drinking lots of water is also important, and it can help to cut down on sugary juices, sodas and snacks as well.
See your dentist regularly
If you want fresh, pleasant breath, forget about skipping your 6-monthly scale and polish. Bad breath can be a sign of gum disease or tooth decay, so it’s vital to see your dentist for regular check-ups to identify any issues early on.
Brush teeth at least twice a day
To remove food particles and bacteria and prevent plaque build-up, dentists recommend brushing at least twice a day – morning and night. For a full-mouth clean, brush for 2 minutes.
Brush your tongue
Not to gross you out or anything, but your tongue is a total hotbed of bacteria. It’s therefore just as in need of a good clean as your teeth! So, make sure you brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper twice daily if you want fresher breath. (Our Electric Toothbrush (coming soon) has an in-built tongue cleaner 😁.)
Change your toothpaste
To up the odour-fighting ante, try switching to a charcoal toothpaste. This highly porous and adsorbent natural ingredient works like a dream to mop up impurities, remove stains, banish bacteria and deeply deodorise the mouth.
Switch to a sonic toothbrush
For a super-clean mouth, nothing beats a sonic toothbrush! With 24,000 brush strokes a minute and two different modes, the Advanced Whitening Electric Toothbrush (coming soon) uses sonic technology to direct fluid into parts of your mouth bristles can’t reach. The result is an ultra-deep clean, fresher breath and healthier teeth and gums.
Don’t forget to floss
One vital dental hygiene step that oh-so many of us skip is flossing. To remove cavity-causing plaque and food remnants and keep breath fresh, this should be part of your daily dental routine!
Try a teeth whitening kit
It might not seem like an obvious remedy for bad breath, but don’t bypass your trusty old at-home teeth whitening kit! Our Wireless Teeth Whitening Kit is powered by bacteria-destroying hydrogen peroxide and red and blue light LED technology for a smile that smells as fresh as it looks.
Speak to your GP
If your dentist gives your mouth a clean bill of health and you’ve tried all the above but are still bothered by bad breath, speak to your GP. They will be able to help identify if there’s an underlying health problem which might be to blame.
1. Health Direct. Halitosis. Reviewed December 2019.