First things first: Find out if you really need to be reading this article. Many people who think that they have bad breath actually do not, and many that do have bad breath are unaware because they cannot smell it themselves. (Sorry, blowing on your hand and then smelling your palm doesn’t actually work.) Unfortunately, the only sure way to find out is to ask a trusted (and honest) friend or significant other to evaluate where on the scale of pleasant to putrid your breath ranks.
Toothpaste and mouthwash and floss, oh my! Basic oral hygiene (see above heading if you’re confused by what that means) reduces your risk of bad breath by removing food particles from your mouth (think about how your fridge smells when you leave leftovers there for too long). But brushing, gargling and flossing aren’t enough; that fresh minty taste in your mouth will only mask the smell temporarily. The #1 culprit of bad breath is the bacteria living on your tongue. To get rid of it, use a metal tongue scraper (which lasts longer and works better than the plastic ones) once or twice a day. Be sure to pay attention to the back of the tongue where the source of the stink tends to thrive. But be careful not to scrape so hard that you hurt your tongue!
Saliva: Your new best friend. Ever wonder what’s up with morning breath? Well, your body produces saliva -- which helps wash the bacteria out of your mouth -- at a much slower rate while you sleep. Saliva helps to keep your breath under control; while dry mouth is not only annoying, it also tends to be smelly. Chewing gum increases saliva production better than sucking on mints (so pop those Altoids), but drinking plenty of water will also help wash bacteria away.
It’s rare, but… In some cases, the cause of your dragon breath may not be a garlic overload, and water and gum may not do the trick. Decay and gum disease can cause unpleasant odors, as can sinus and tonsil infections. If an unexplained stench takes up long-term residence in your mouth and all attempts to freshen your breath fail, see your dentist or doctor to rule out anything more serious.
Nestpert: Kathy Duncan, NYU College of Dentistry.
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