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On our patient questionnaire at WholeHealth Chicago, we list a lot of symptoms that people can mark if they want help with them. Since bad breath appears as a concern so frequently, I thought I might save you some unnecessary anxieties.
It may interest you to know that a lot of study has gone into what is now officially termed “oral malodor.” Despite the poetic ring, the name hasn’t really caught on. There is actually a professional society for the study of bad breath (here, in case you want to have a look), a machine called a halimeter to measure it, and quite a bit of research.
For those of you reluctant to speak out for fear your friends and loved ones will back away, there’s hope. Bad breath can be divided into two basic groups, temporary and chronic:
• Temporary bad breath you know all about: certain foods affect your breath (alcohol, garlic, onions) as does smoking and failing to clean your mouth thoroughly.
• Chronic bad breath, which is bad breath all the time, is overestimated by most sufferers. Most of my patients who check the bad-breath box are odor-free. Doctors in the field agree that bad breath is hard to self-test. Even old standby techniques such as breathing into cupped palms and then quickly inhaling or licking the back of your wrist and smelling the drying saliva generally overestimate the severity of the odor. The most reliable way to determine if you have bad breath is to rely on the judgment of someone you’re close to. If that’s too much to ask, scrape your tongue with a spoon and smell the drying residue.
The source of most bad breath is bacteria breeding in the rough area of your tongue. These bacteria flourish under a coating of dead cells and food debris and actually produce small amounts of many of the same gasses you pass at the opposite end. When you talk, you mix the air from your lungs with the gasses forming on your tongue, and there you go. Additional failures of oral hygiene, including bad teeth or gums, can be odor sources as well. Some chronic illnesses affect breath, but fortunately these are quite rare.
Follow these eight steps to avoid bad breath:
1. Floss to remove bacteria-laden plaque and food particles from between your teeth. Daily flossing has also been proven to prevent heart disease. Here’s how: the bacteria in plaque sets you up for chronic inflammation that spreads throughout your body. When the lining of your arteries gets inflamed, cholesterol plaques (even if you have good cholesterol levels) accumulate and cause blockage.
2. Brush your teeth thoroughly.
3. Scrape your tongue using a brush-scraper combination device, brushing your tongue first and then scraping the residue forward. After a couple brush-scrapings, your tongue will change from a sickly grey-green to a healthy odor-free pink. The amount of residue you’ll remove from the first scraping will cause your toes to curl in disgust. We carry a very inexpensive and effective brush-scraper in our apothecary.
4. Rinse your mouth with water.
5. Mouthwash is optional, but if you do use one, rinse out all the toothpaste in your mouth first. Soap in toothpaste can inactivate the antibacterial ingredients in the mouthwash.
6. Stay well hydrated.
7. Chew a small piece of fresh ginger or a fennel seed as needed during the day.
8. Get regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings.
Finally, don’t worry too much about bad breath. I’ve never (ever) come across a patient with a breath problem who wasn’t able to solve it with these simple steps.
David Edelberg, MD