There are a whole number of reasons why you might have bad breath, and crappy oral hygiene is just the tip of the minty-white iceberg. "Bad breath is generally caused by bacteria over growing in your mouth," says celebrity dentist Victoria Veytsman, DDS. There are a lot of things that can make this happen, but a few of the biggies she called out include dry mouth, gastrointestinal issues, hormones, and the pH of your mouth. "It's a whole body thing, not just your mouth," she says.
While we all have some sense of how to get rid of mouth stink (brush, floss, and don't eat smelly foods), some of the traditional methods have used far more chemicals than I, personally, like to put in my mouth on a regular basis. Sure, you can swish some mouthwash or pop a mint and hope for the best, but if that sounds less-than-appealing, there are plenty of ways to treat bad breath that don't involve dousing your mouth with something unbeknownst. Allow the pros to explain.
Here's how to prevent bad breath without chemicals
Stay hydrated: "Dry mouth is a common culprit for bad breath," says Lawrence Fung, DDS, founder of Silicon Beach Dental, confirming what anyone who has ever experienced the rancid taste of dehydration knows to be true. Dr. Veytsman calls out things like not drinking enough water and sleeping with your mouth open as some of the culprits. And just like with your regular BO, alcohol can make things worse. "When you’re enjoying alcoholic drinks, remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to keep saliva flowing into your mouth, and keep breath fresh by alternating your favorite alcoholic drinks with a soda water and fresh mint combo," says Dr. Fung.
Get the plaque out: In "gross news of the day," plaque makes food particles more likely to stick to your teeth, which will ultimately leave you with b-a-d breath. With that in mind it's really important—both for your mouth health, and honestly, your social life, to practice proper oral care. "Brush your teeth with an anti-plaque toothpaste, like Hello Antiplaque + Whitening Fluoride Free Toothpaste ($5)," says Dr. Fung. Follow that with floss to remove that layer of bacteria biofilm in places toothbrush bristles can’t reach and swish with an antiseptic mouthwash.
Check the label on your mouthwash: Considering alcohol can cause dryness, which leads to bad breath, it's hardly something you want in a product you're specifically using to combat bad breath, right? Dr. Veytsman suggests looking for an alcohol-free mouthwash to keep things feeling (and smelling) clean. One ingredient that should be present on your labels? Menthol. "It's a well-known antiseptic that kills bad-breath causing germs," says Dr. Fung.
Reach for green tea: I know, I know—can I live?! But even I—a die-hard coffee addict—would take a caffeine crash over coffee breath 10 times out of 10. And the good news? There's a far more tooth-friendly option to help you get past that 3:30 feeling. "Instead of reaching for coffee to stay awake, try green tea," says Dr. Fung. "Not only will it not stain your teeth, green tea has been found to be great at freshening up your breath as it can cover up strong odors, plus it gives you a slight caffeine boost."
Munch on fruits: "Fresh fruits with a little more acidity like Granny Smith apples can be great at cleansing the palate," says Dr. Fung, who notes that they can also be optimal for hydration. Full disclosure: They aren't necessarily the best at helping to avoid cavities, so munch responsibly and remember to brush.
Try an electric toothbrush: Speaking of brushing, it may be worth swapping out your old-school standard with something more high-powered. "Make sure you're using an electric toothbrush, which gets rid of a lot more plaque than a conventional toothbrush," says Dr. Veytsman. And just like your dentist has been trying to tell you for decades, flossing is really, really important here, too.
Talk to your dentist: If your bad breath is really becoming a sitch, it may be time to check in with your dentist to make sure nothing major is going on—like a rotting filling or a periodontal disease like gingivitis. And be sure you're going in for regular cleanings to avoid these problems happening in the first place.
Something else we've been wondering about lately in the oral care sphere: What, exactly, is the deal with Flouride? And this is what dentists says is the most important thing to keep in mind when brushing.
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