Question: Even though I brush and floss my teeth regularly, I still experience bad breath. What can I do?
Richard Stickney, Holistic Dentist
Ideally, you'll need to work with a dental health professional to find and treat the root cause of the bad breath (halitosis). Transient bad breath can be caused by certain foods, such as garlic and onions. Chronic halitosis is often caused by an oral condition such as periodontal disease, and/or tooth decay, sinusitis, or another underlying medical condition.
Periodontal disease and tooth decay have a bacterial origin. I would recommend a natural approach that avoids chemicals and alcohol-based mouth rinses. Home therapy for bad breath includes using a soft toothbrush, dental floss, a tongue scraper, and an all-natural, alcohol-free, herbal-based mouthwash. The tongue scraper is really important, as many bacteria live on the tongue. A water irrigator with herbal solutions is very helpful for periodontal-related bad breath, as it gets at the cause of the infection.
Often, there is a connection between dental infections and overall health. For instance, research has shown that periodontal disease is linked to increased heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, diabetes, pre-term low birthweight babies, and pancreatic cancer in men.
Chronic bad breath is not only a social problem, but can also be an early warning that you have either an underlying medical disease or at risk of medical problems from an oral infection. Professional evaluation and consistent good oral hygiene can solve the problem.Richard Stickney, DDS, PS, practices in Seattle, Washington and surrounding areas.
Terry Shaw, Nutritionist
Chronic bad breath can be an indicator that there is an infection in the mouth, or an infection or imbalance elsewhere in the body. Have a dentist check it out, or have a health care professional make certain that your bad breath is not a sign that an organ is not functioning properly. Different scents on the breath may indicate certain things not working properly within the body.
For instance, constipation might be a factor, with food staying in the intestines longer than it should. Undigested foods can cause bacterial fermentation. Fasting can cause things to slow down in the digestive system, and over-processed packaged foods are often not digested as well as whole, natural foods. Certain foods will produce odorous gases that can be absorbed by the body, and then released through the breath.
Some steps you can take include keeping your mouth moist, since the bacteria that ferment bits of food, skin, etc., will be washed out. It's the dryness of the mouth that contributes to morning breath, so keep your mouth moist to help neutralize bacteria. You can do this by chewing sugarless gum, which causes salivation. Avoid mouthwash and breath mints containing alcohol, which dries the mouth. Avoid mouth fresheners containing sugar, as they feed the bacteria. Probiotics can be helpful in keeping bacteria in balance.
Finish meals with a firm fruit or vegetable. Limit foods containing nitrites (hot dogs, bacon, processed lunch meats, and processed foods). Consume plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and avoid skipping meals and fasting. Eat plenty of green, fresh things, and nibble on fresh parsley for a natural breath freshener.Terry Shaw is the nutritionist at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas. Lake Austin
Vanessa Lee, Naturopath
The naturopathic approach to health typically starts with a thorough analysis of your health history and your current state of health. Halitosis can sometimes be a sign of health problems that reach further than just the mouth or throat. It's important to determine and treat the underlying cause(s) of imbalances in the body; once the imbalance is addressed and improves, symptoms such as bad breath will also improve.
Poor digestion is often the culprit behind halitosis, but the cause of poor digestion can vary from person to person. Generally speaking, stress can affect digestion negatively, learn to handle your stress, and be sure to eat in a calm environment. Supplements such as probiotics, glutamine, digestive enzymes, and a variety of herbs like ginger and slippery elm can soothe and heal the stomach and intestines. Eliminating factors that cause inflammation in the body reduces damage to the digestive system; detoxifying and adhering to a hypoallergenic, anti-inflammatory diet can help decrease inflammation. Chewing on parsley releases high amounts of chlorophyll, which is detoxifying, antibacterial, and deodorizing.
Your health is unique to you. In my experience, there is rarely one treatment that works for everyone. You will achieve better results from an individualized treatment plan that's created for you by an experienced health professional.Vanessa Lee, ND, BSc, practices in Toronto (Yorkville), Ontario, Canada. Naturopathic Health