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We’re comfortable asking our dentists about everything from TMJ to teeth whitening…but inquiring about bad breath? Not always the most pleasant conversation. In the name of research, we asked top dental experts to share their tips for diagnosing, preventing and treating halitosis—so you don’t have to.
Try this DIY test
Wondering if you have bad breath? Asking your significant other can open up a can of worms. Instead, “look at your tongue in the mirror, advises Dr. Irwin Smigel, Manhattan-based celebrity cosmetic dentist and Supersmile oral care founder. “If it is pretty and pink, no problem: Your breath is likely good to go. However, if it is yellow or white you likely need a good tongue cleaning to get rid of your bad breath.” Spend a few bucks on a plastic tongue scraper and use it every morning before you brush.
Another quick trick that should only be done in the privacy of your own home? Lick the back of your hand and let it evaporate. If your breath is bad, you will likely be able to smell it on your hand. Alternatively, breathe into a small brown paper bag, and do a sniff test. The, please, throw the bag away
Get to the root of the problem
“The causes of bad breath are generally either oral-related or digestive lining-related,” explains Emanuel Layliev, DDS, Director, New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry in New York City. If the source of bad breath is the oral cavity, food residue—and the resultant bacteria—may be to blame. “Food residue can build up in gum pockets, in between teeth and under restorations, within tongue projections or papillae, which all can lead to unpleasant breath,” says Dr. Layliev. Chronic bad breath can also be a warning sign for gum disease. Your best defense is daily flossing, says Dr. Smigel.
Brush and rinse with these
You may be tempted by toothpastes in pretty pastel tubes and French pharmacy imports, but if bad breath is a concern, always choose a toothpaste with the ADA seal, recommends Dr. Layliev. This guarantees the formula will help fight tooth decay and gum disease, and promote a clean-breath mouth environment. Mouthwash is also a must—and you want it to be alcohol-free, so as not to dry out the gums.
Prefer homemade remedies or ran out of storebought mouthwash? Gargle with a mixture of 1 cup water, ½ teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt. This combo will knock out any germs that are causing your bad breath, says Bruce Lubin, author of Who Knew: 10,001 Easy Solutions to Everyday Problems.
Try tooth-friendly (and tasty!) foods
Eat a nutritious balanced diet rich in fibrous and leafy fruits and vegetables (such as apples and celery), which naturally help clean teeth, says Dr. Layliev. To neutralize bad breath in a pinch, chew on parsley, avocado, fennel seeds or peppermint leaves, or place a slice of cucumber on your palate for a minute. What about our trust go-tos—gum and mints? Look for ones made with xylitol, not sugar (which some oral bacteria feed on). And if you're on the go without a mint or mouthwash, swish water around your mouth for 30 seconds. This can tackle odor-producing bacteria and ward off stains until your next brushing, Dr. Layliev says.
Put the kettle on
“Green tea reduces the level of sulfur compounds, and is a good option for a natural breath neutralizer,” says Dr. Smigel. The effect only lasts an hour or two, but you get to enjoy all the other health-boosting aspects of tea at the same time.
Ditch your habit
Not only does tobacco make you decidedly less kissable, it also reduces your ability to taste foods, irritates gum tissues and contributes to bad breath. And doctors agree: Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer.