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There’s an old saying that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. But add one more thing to the list — bad breath. Just about everyone has had it.”At least 50% of the adult population has bad breath at one point or another, and just about everyone has it in the morning,” says Andrew Spielman, DMD, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry.

According to Spielman, 90% of bad breath is caused by bacteria, which break down food and salivary proteins in the mouth and, in the process, “release odorous compounds.” Bacteria can hideout on the tongue, which works much like Velcro to trap bad odours.

Causes of Bad Breath

Food is a major cause of bad breath, but so is not eating enough. “Time intervals in between eating cause bacteria to accumulate in the oral cavity, and there’s not enough saliva to produce the normal cleansing that occurs,” Spielman says. Some drugs reduce levels of saliva too. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking mints or candy can help combat some forms of dry mouth.

Bad breath isn’t always what it seems. Once foods such as garlic and onion are metabolized by the liver, their odour is excreted in perspiration and from the lungs, rather than from the mouth.

Bad Breath Prevention

Spielman offers some sure-fire ways to detect and cure bad breath:

Lick. We become accustomed to the smell in our own mouths and can’t detect it, which is why blowing into your hand won’t reveal the true quality of your breath. Instead, press your tongue (as far back as you can reach) against the back of your hand. Let the saliva dry for 10 seconds, then smell.

Scrape. Sixty per cent of bad breath is due to plaque that accumulates in the tongue’s folds, particularly toward the back. One of the best ways to clear it away is with a tongue scraper twice daily.

Rinse. Many common types of mouthwash use alcohol to kill bacteria — which is not the best ingredient, Spielman says. Instead, gargle once a day with a solution containing zinc chloride.



Andrew Spielman, DMD, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs; professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, NYU College of Dentistry, New York.