Bad breath stinks, on every level. Imagine going your entire day, not knowing that the slight cringe on everyone else’s face was because of YOU, and your rotten breath.
But wouldn’t they TELL YOU if you had bad breath?! My guess is a hard no. Have YOU stopped a conversation with a colleague to say, “Listen Carol, I know you worked hard on that project, but dammit that stank coming from your mouth is beyond measure and preventing me from fully liking you as a person.” Okay, that’s a bit harsh, and I’m sure you wouldn’t phrase it that way. But it’s an uncomfortable scenario, so my guess is that most of us wouldn’t say it at all.
Best to do everything we can to have wonderful breath, so that we can approach every conversation with confidence, knowing that any foul odour isn’t coming from our direction.
Beyond the social hiccup bad breath can cause, halitosis (the technical name for bad breath) can be a sign that your oral health isn’t up to par, which can actually reflect a host of systemic issues.
You WANT your oral health to be top notch, because you want ALL of your health to be top notch. Remember, everything is connected.
Your mouth hosts a world of bacteria in itself. Like your gut microbiome, you actually have an ORAL microbiome, with a wonderful universe of good and bad bacteria living together in (hopefully) good harmony.
Like the gut, problems arise when the bad bacteria in your mouth start to make their presence more known. When it comes to bad breath, bad bacteria can be the lead characters in the show.
Let’s delve into some common reasons for bad breath:
Reasons your Breath Might Stink
Poor Hygiene Practices: this is an obvious one, but if you're not brushing your teeth regularly, food particles can linger around. Bacteria then begin to break them down, releasing not-so-great smells. Brushing also gets rid of plaque (which is actually a bacterial film), that also causes odour.
Dry Mouth: think morning breath after you’ve been sleeping with your mouth open all night. When your mouth is the Sahara Desert, you don’t have the saliva to neutralize acids produced by plaque, or the liquid necessary to wash away dead cells and particles that can collect on your tongue or cheeks. Dehydration is a contributing factor as well, so drink that water!
Your Oral Microbiome and VSCs: THIS IS A BIG ONE! You might know about your microbiome (bacterial universe) in your gut, but you also have thousands of bacteria in your mouth as well - the oral microbiome. And sometimes, perhaps due to diet, stress, antibiotics and illness, the balance of good vs. bad bacteria can shift in a more negative direction. Certain bacteria that like to reside on the back of the tongue (I’ll link back to this in a later recommendation) LOVE releasing something called Volatile Sulfur Compounds (VSCs) which are produced when these bacteria eat and degrade sulfur containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. These VSCs are responsible for that lovely rotten egg and cabbage smell. OH! And FYI, mouthwashes don’t really do anything to reduce these cabbage/egg smelling VSCs.
More complex issues: these include periodontal disease, post-nasal drip, sinus infections to the more serious issues like kidney disorders and diabetes. If you are concerned, please see your doctor.
How to hack Bad Breath
Scrape your Tongue: this is a GAME CHANGER for bad breath. This is an Ayurvedic tradition, where scraping one's tongue is a daily practice to remove something called ama (natural waste products that build and put a drain on the body). Regardless of the term you like to use, there is a considerable amount of buildup that occurs on the tongue. And as you read above, bacteria that produce VSCs love to hang out on the rear of the tongue. Removing this tongue coating each and every morning has a considerable impact on bad breath. In fact, one study found that tongue scraping reduced some specific types of bacteria that are known to cause bad breath. Some studies suggest it’s even more effective at reducing bad breath than brushing, but please, just do both.
HOW TO: Buy a tongue scraper at your local health food store and first thing in the morning (before drinking water or anything), scrape your tongue (reach to the back!) 7-10 times, rinsing the gunk off of it as you go.
Oil Pulling: this is also a tradition dating back years and years (again, with ties to Ayurveda). Personally I don’t practice this as regularly as tongue scraping or brushing, because honestly it’s a wee bit time consuming. Essentially, you take a tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it around in your mouth for 15-20 minutes in the morning (after you scrape your tongue, of course). Oil pulling been shown to reduce harmful bacteria in the mouth as well as reduce inflammation , and improve breath. There is also the idea that oil pulling pulls out toxins from the body, although that has less research behind it. Regardless, this is a MUCH better option than alcohol mouthwashes. First of all, alcohol-based washes dry your mouth out, which leads to bad breath long term. Coconut oil pulling encourages saliva production, so that’s a win in itself. It’s also a NATURAL product to put in your mouth and swish around, as opposed to mouth wash which is loaded with ingredients that neither of us have fun pronouncing.
HOW TO: after you tongue-scrape, put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth and swish swish swish for 15-20 minutes (yes it’s tiring). And then spit it out IN THE GARBAGE OR COMPOST. Spitting it out in the sink (or toilet) will clog your drains when the coconut oil hardens. Feel free to start small and do it for less time to start. But for the benefit of this, you want to aim for that 15-20 minute mark.
Xylitol Gum: xylitol is krypton for bad breath, and helps reduce the bacteria that can cause tooth decay and foul odours. Furthermore, chewing gum increases saliva flow which helps wash away sugar and debris following a meal. I always have this kind of gum on hand, and chew it after most meals when I’m on the go!
Probiotic Lozenges: - like this one, contain a specific strain called Streptococcus salivarius K12, that has been shown to be hugely beneficial to the oral microbiome. Like a probiotic in the gut, the aim here is to push the ratio of good vs. bad bacteria in a more positive direction, which has now been shown to be more effective than simply trying to eradicate the bad guys.
Green tea: who’d of thought that green tea is more effective than gum in reducing foul breath, but it’s a thing! The polyphenols found in green tea have wonderful antimicrobial effects, and have been found to reduce VSCs! But! The trick is if it’s really bad breath, you want to be sipping on this throughout the day as it’s not a permanent fix. For that route, go with the above recommendations.
There are many recommendations here, I know, but if I had to pick one with which to start, hands down (in addition to brushing), it would be tongue scraping. It’s truly a wonderful practice to put into place.
The health of your mouth is related to every other system in your body, so please nurture your oral microbiome! If you are concerned, consult your doctor and dentist and stay on top of things.
Here’s to fresh breath and supporting those good lil bugs in your mouth!