Updated 15 September 2020

How to fight bad breath

Bad breath is not uncommon, but it could indicate the presence of a bigger problem.

  • Halitosis means bad breath, which is often caused by foul-smelling bacteria in the mouth
  • Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to combat this unpleasant condition
  • It is, however, important to consult a medical professional if the issue persists 

Everyone's experienced bad breath in their life at least once, but the problem needs to be taken seriously as it could be the sign of a bigger underlying problem. 

Halitosis is caused by a variety of factors, and often the culprit is bacteria that feed on bits of food that get stuck in the mouth.

There is even something like delusional halitosis, according to a review in the European Journal of Dentistry. This is when someone is convinced they have bad breath and that others around them are annoyed by it, despite no clinical evidence that their breath actually smells. 

This happens in about 28% of patients that go to dentists complaining of bad breath. Halitophobia is the fear of bad breath, which can lead to obsessive dental appointments.

It can be classified as a mental disorder, and some believe it's fuelled by aggressive marketing by the dental industry. 

READ | Your bad breath could be more than just a result of what you had for lunch – and a 'sniff-cam' may be able to detect what's wrong 

Know what's causing it

It's important to know what type of halitosis you might have in order to treat it – which would require a trip to the dentist.

A dentist can prescribe antimicrobial toothpastes and mouthwashes, as well as treat the cause of bad breath with medication if needed.

Scrub that tongue

We all know we need to brush our teeth at least twice a day, but do we remember to brush our tongue as well?

Foul-smelling bacteria can grow and multiply on your tongue, so it's important to give it a good scrub to prevent any nasty communities from thriving. You can use your toothbrush or a specially designed tongue scraper for serious issues. 

Don't forget to floss 

Give your teeth a good floss to ensure bits of that sausage roll you had for lunch aren't overstaying their welcome in your mouth.

Food debris tends to attract bacteria, and often manages to escape the sanitising bristles of your toothbrush. 

If you want to be even more careful, going for a thorough cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can also help manage bad breath.

READ MORE | Bad breath? The problem might be your nose 

Mouthwash is not the way to go long-term

While a swig of Listerine can mask bad breath, it's unfortunately not a long-term solution.

It fails to treat the symptoms at the core, and alcohol may very well aggravate the situation. Ask your dentist what works best.

Check your false teeth

Another source of bad breath could be your false teeth. Clean them thoroughly and frequently with dishwashing liquid to give bad bacteria the boot and ensure that your smile retains its shine.

Also, don't forget your fillings. Fillings can also trap bacteria, and cavities can also contribute to bad breath, so go to see your dentist to have them fixed.

Stay away from antibiotics

Odour-causing bacteria are different from bacteria that cause infection, so don't pop antibiotics like sweets.

Over-use of antibiotics breeds antibiotic resistance, which means that bacteria might come back stronger and more virulent than before.

READ | Your tonsils may be the cause of your bad breath

Chewing your way to fresher breath

Similar to mouthwash, minty bubblegum is also only a temporary fix for smelly breath.

But if you do need a quick fix, go for sugar-free gum – or for something all-natural, chew parsley, mint, cloves or fennel seeds.

What to eat and not to eat

Fresh veggies and fruits are your friends, while coffee, meat and milk can make things worse. Other common perpetrators include garlic, onion, spices, radishes and alcohol. 

If you have a bad case of halitosis, you should avoid the above culprits, or at least carefully clean your teeth after consuming them. 

READ MORE | Sting taken out of visits to the dentist

Image credit: Pixabay


Ask the Expert

Oral health expert

Dr Imraan Hoosen qualified from the Medical University of South Africa in 1997. Together with his partner, Dr Hoosen now runs a group of dental practices around Johannesburg (Lesedi Private Hospital, Highlands North Medical Centre , Brenthurst Clinic, Parklane Clinic, Simmonds Street Medical and Dental Centre, Soni Medical Centre- Newclare). Dr Hoosen can be contacted on 011 933 4096.

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