Tag Archives: oral hygiene

How to Get Rid of Bad Breath Naturally

Urban legend has it that halitosis – bad breath – was “invented” by the makers of Listerine, but what they actually did was just popularize an obscure medical term and brilliantly exploit people’s fear of social rejection through ads like this:

Bad breath, of course, has been an issue for ages. In his 14th century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer described the Summoner as having boozy, garlicky breath, while the “mistress” of Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 has breath that’s said to “reek.” In Don Quixote, the hero rejects the flirtations of Altisadora because of, among other things, “a certain faded breath which will not let you near her for a moment.”

Far from inventing bad breath, Listerine ads and their imitators just made us worry enough about it to spend millions on mouthwashes, strips, sprays, mints, gum and other products to sweeten the breath.

But makes breath smell bad in the first place? Aside from the common culprit of pungent foods such as onions or garlic, there are a number of factors, including

  • Poor or spotty home hygiene.
  • Irregular cleaning of dentures, splints, retainers or other oral appliances.
  • Dental problems, including dry mouth, gum disease, mouth sores and abscessed teeth.
  • Diet – especially high-protein/low-carb, but likewise a diet dependent on processed foods containing sugars, white flour and other fermentable carbohydrates.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco.
  • Zinc deficiency.
  • Antihistamine or prescription drug use.
  • Medical conditions, including gastrointestinal (stomach/gut] problems, sinus problems and cancer.

Looking at this list, you may already see a few simple things you can do to keep your breath from going bad in the first place:

  1. Practice good oral hygiene (at minimum, brushing and flossing regularly and well).
  2. Regularly clean any oral appliances you use.
  3. See your dentist regularly, both for cleanings and to catch and deal with any small problems before they become big ones.
  4. Eat a varied and balanced diet based on whole foods, low in processed carbs.
  5. Avoid tobacco products.
  6. Supplement with zinc if you’re not getting enough from diet alone.

Be aware that zinc deficiency can be caused by some medical conditions, in which case you should be treated by your physician, who can also oversee your diet and nutritional supplementation. If you’re in otherwise good health and thinking about taking supplements, be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner first to make sure you take the right dose and aren’t at risk for bad interactions with any medications you take (over-the-counter, prescription, homeopathic or otherwise).

If you already have bad breath, taking the steps above – especially those involving hygiene and diet – can help. Here are a few other home remedies:

  1. After eating, rinse your mouth with the juice of half a lemon mixed into a glass of water.
  2. Chew fennel or cardamom seeds after meals.
  3. Use baking soda instead of toothpaste.
  4. Add 1 to 3 drops of tea tree oil to your regular toothpaste.
  5. Take chlorophyll supplements.
  6. Use a mouth rinse that contains hydrogen peroxide (such as Peroxyl) or a solution of equal parts water and 3% hydrogen peroxide. To be safe, use the latter in the short-term only and rinse your mouth with plain water afterward to prevent dry mouth. With either rinse, if you experience any burning, tooth sensitivity or other problems, stop using the rinse and consult your dentist.
  7. Mix 1/2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water and use as a gargle.

If you have chronic bad breath you suspect may be due to dental problems, make an appointment with your dentist for an exam and cleaning. Likewise, if you suspect a medical issue, consult your physician about it – as you should if you suspect medications may be causing the odor. If they’re prescription meds, do not just quit taking them.

Have your own favorite home remedy for bad breath? Share it in the comments!


Filed under Dental Health, Dental Hygiene

Do Natural Mouthwashes Work?

For most people, antimicrobial mouthwashes – “germ-killing” products such as Listerine – aren’t necessary for good oral hygiene, but they can be helpful. By controlling the growth of S.mutans and other microbes that contribute to oral disease, they can help you keep your gums healthy and get rid of bad breath. But so can effective brushing, flossing and rinsing with plain water.

However, when a person is already showing signs of gingivitis or periodontitis – “gum disease” – their dentist may recommend an antiseptic rinse to help reverse the disease and restore the gums to health.

In this case (as well as after oral surgery), dentists often recommend a solution of the chemical chlorhexidine – the active ingredient in products such as PerioGard, PerioRx and Peridex, which the University of Maryland Medicine Center says “reduces plaque by 55% and gingivitis by 30 – 45%.”

But despite claims to the contrary, one thing chlorhexidine may not do is prevent cavities.

According to a 2008 literature review, research outcomes have been mixed, with insufficient data to support the use of chlorhexidine to prevent cavities.

Since dental caries is a disease with a multifactoral etiology, it is currently more appropriate to use other established, evidence-based prevention methods, such as…diet modifications and good oral hygiene practices. Recent findings also indicate that the effect of an antimicrobial agent for reducing the levels of mutans streptococci or plaque reduction may not always correlate with eventual caries reduction.

Now comes a study which shows chlorhexidine to offer no real improvement over natural antimicrobials when it comes to managing oral biofilms.

For this Journal of Dentistry study, researchers tested the effects of herbal extracts and chitosan on oral biofilms in vitro – that is, outside the human body – using chlorhexidine rinse as a control. The natural antimicrobials

showed immediate killing of oral biofilm bacteria, comparable with chlorhexidine. Moreover, exposure of a biofilm to these supernatants or chlorhexidine, yielded ongoing killing of biofilm bacteria after exposure during re-deposition of bacteria to a matured 16 h biofilm, but not to a much thinner initial biofilm formed by 2 h adhesion only. This suggests that thicker, more matured biofilms can absorb and release oral antimicrobials.

Conclusions: Supernatants based on herbal- and chitosan-based toothpastes have comparable immediate and ongoing antibacterial efficacies as chlorhexidine. Natural antimicrobials and chlorhexidine absorb in oral biofilms which contributes to their substantive action.

Which raises the question: If the effects of natural substances on oral biofilms are at least as good as those of a chemical substance, why opt for the chemical?

Of course, this study doesn’t answer the question of whether this biofilm control actually prevent caries. And so we return to the earlier study and the knowledge that other actions – chiefly good hygiene and diet – are enough. (As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, fluoride as a preventative is questionable at best and, any benefits may not be worth the risks.)

In other words: why make things more complicated than they need to be?

Meantime, if you do like to use a mouthwash – and some do just for the extra fresh and clean feeling it gives – there are excellent natural products available. I prefer Natural Dentist Healthy Gums Mouth Rinse, which contains a blend of cleansing and soothing botanicals including echinacea, golden seal, grapefruit seed, aloe vera gel and calendula. It contains no alcohol, artificial sweeteners, dyes or preservatives, and will not stain the teeth (unlike chlorhexidine rinses).

We have this product available in my Glendale office. According to the manufacturer’s website, it is also available at CVS, the Vitamin Shoppe and Drugstore.com.

Top image by Nicole Lee, via Flickr


Filed under Dental Health, Dental Hygiene, Oral Health, Oral Hygiene