Battling bad breath

breathYou whisper to your co-worker during a meeting, and moments later she hands you a stick of gum.

Do you have a problem with chronic bad breath?

John Joseph II, MD, Family Physician at Scott & White Killeen Clinic, offers some tips for managing chronic bad breath.

What Causes Bad Breath?

Bad breath, called halitosis, is a common problem, affecting 90 million Americans. There are many possible causes of chronic bad breath.

Bacteria. The primary reason for bad breath is buildup of plaque or tartar on your teeth, says Dr. Joseph.

“The sugar in sweetened gum is food for bacteria, so it will actually cause bacteria to grow more.”

“More than 700 different types of bacteria have been found to be present in the mouth. Some of them cause you to have pleasant-smelling breath. Some of them cause you to have bad-smelling breath,” says Dr. Joseph.


“Typically the ones that cause the bad breath are on the top of the tongue and located closest to the front of the mouth,” explains Dr. Joseph.

Foods. Garlic, onions, coffee, and alcohol are common causes of bad breath. 

Low-carb, high-protein diet. “A condition called ketosis will occur with high-protein, low-carb diets, which is basically a build-up acid. Statistically, eating fewer than 100 grams of carbohydrates will cause bad breath,” Dr. Joseph notes.

Sweetened gum. “One of the worst things people do is to try to cover up their bad breath with gum that is sweetened with sugar. That will give a temporary fix in the sense it will cover up the bad breath,” Dr. Joseph says.

“However,” Dr. Joseph cautions, “the sugar in sweetened gum is food for bacteria, so it will actually cause bacteria to grow more. With an increase in bacteria that are now eating the sugar, you have an increase in bacterial waste, which makes your breath smell worse in the long run.”

Dehydration. Failure to drink enough fluids causes a decrease in saliva production and an increase in bacteria, which causes bad breath.

“Saliva works as a natural barrier to bacteria. Saliva contains oxygen and bacteria don’t like oxygen. So when your mouth dries, saliva is decreased and therefore bacteria grow more,” Dr. Joseph details.

Smoking. The tobacco in cigarettes, pipes and cigars can cause chronic bad breath. Moreover, smoking dries out your mouth and decreases saliva production.

Infection. Occasionally, your bad breath may be due to infection:

  • Sinus infection
  • Gum infection
  • Bronchitis

Illness. In rare cases, bad breath is a sign of significant illness, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Problems in your gastrointestinal tract
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease

In most cases, however, other signs of disease or illness will be present long before bad breath.

How Do I Treat Bad Breath?

Dental care. Proper dental care is key to eliminating chronic bad breath.

Dr. Joseph recommends that you:

  • Have regular check-ups with your dentist – one to four times a year, depending on your dentist’s recommendation
  • Fill any cavities
  • Replace any broken fillings
  • Brush your teeth twice and day and floss once a day
  • Brush the top of your tongue daily
  • Use mouthwash daily to kill bacteria

Fluids. Drink plenty of water to maintain moisture in your mouth and stimulate saliva production.

Foods. Avoid foods that cause bad breath, such as garlic, onions, coffee and alcohol.

Dr. Joseph recommends the following holistic cures thought to curb bad breath:

High-fiber foods. High-fiber foods, such as crunchy vegetables, help increase the production of saliva, which in turn helps reduce bad breath:

  • Raw carrots
  • Raw celery
  • Raw broccoli

“Moreover, mechanically, crunchy vegetables help to remove food from your teeth and gums, helping get the bacteria out,” says Dr. Joseph.

Fruits. Typically, fruits that are high in vitamin C tend to reduce bad breath:

  • Melons
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits

Green tea. Green tea helps keep your mouth fresh, because green tea has some antibacterial compounds.

Cinnamon. Stir your green tea with a cinnamon stick, Dr. Joseph suggests, as cinnamon tends to retard the growth of bacteria.

Chlorophyll. Chlorophyll tends to retard bacterial growth, because it releases oils that make bacteria difficult to grow. Dr. Joseph suggests adding these fresh herbs to your cooking:

  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill

And remember, if you’re going to freshen your breath with a stick of gum, use sugar-free gum.

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Battling bad breath