Updated 22 January 2018

Preventing bad breath

Good oral hygiene goes a long way toward preventing halitosis.

Halitosis can be prevented in most cases. To combat bad breath, you should first ensure that your oral hygiene is excellent.

- Visit the dentist regularly for teeth cleaning, and brush your teeth and tongue at least twice daily. As the back of the tongue is known to frequently harbour a population of odour-causing bacteria that cause bad breath, it should be scraped/brushed thoroughly.

- You must also floss daily to remove food particles from between teeth and to prevent build-up of plaque at the gum line.

- An oral rinse or "mouthwash" can be used, but only to provide extra freshness, not to mask odours which should have been removed by other measures. Mouthwash is only effective for short period of time, and mouthwashes containing alcohol aggravate the problem.

Remember, a mouthwash cannot effectively cleanse the mouth of odours – any cover-up effect is temporary. The chemicals in some oral rinses are quite irritating and can actually cause minor damage to tissues with overuse.

If you wear dentures, be aware that they are frequently the source of foul odour. Frequent and thorough cleaning of false teeth is necessary to prevent the accumulation of odour-causing substances.

Most dentists agree that proper brushing helps minimise the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. When it comes to cleaning your teeth, there is a right and a wrong way to brush.

Electric toothbrushes are designed so that the bristles move within the head of the brush, while the head and handle remain stationary. This produces quick, short vibrating strokes that do a superior job cleaning teeth and stimulating gums. This cleaning is superior to hand cleaning unless the hand cleaning is done properly. There are many electric toothbrush systems on the market but they are not all of the same quality.

Most dental professionals recommend toothbrushes with round heads and soft bristles. Some systems brush the tongue side and the cheek side of the teeth at the same time but these may be less beneficial than those that clean one side at a time.

Generally speaking, choose an electric toothbrush with a full tuft of soft bristles that rotate gently, but fast enough to be effective. It's also important to choose a brush with a small head that cleans one tooth surface at a time.

Brush at least twice a day with a pea-size drop of fluoride toothpaste or gel using this technique:

- With your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, brush the outer and inner surfaces of your teeth at the gum line with short, gentle circular motions, where the circle is so small that only one tooth is brushed at a time.

- Brush the flat chewing surfaces of your teeth with a back-and-forth motion.

- Clean the inner surfaces of your front teeth by tilting the brush vertically and using gentle circular motions.

- Pay special attention to hard-to-reach back teeth and areas where dental work has been performed.

- Brush your tongue in a back-to-front motion to remove food particles and bacteria.

- You should take at least two minutes to brush your teeth properly.

Read more: 

Revised and reviewed by Professor Bill Evans, BDS Dip Orth(Witwatersrand). Orthodontist: South African Dental Association and Senior Specialist, Department of Orthodontics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. February 2015.

Previously reviewed by Dr Jeff Michelson, South African Dental Association


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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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