What to do about bad breath
A dental check-up is the first priority. The British Dental Association suggests that you explain in advance that you will be asking for advice about bad breath. Tell the receptionist when you make an appointment, and ask that it is noted down and that the dentist is told. Ask the dentist for a thorough scale and polish, and ask if there are any defects where plaque and food debris might be building up.
- Use a brush with a small head, about the size of a 20p or 5c coin.
- Use only a pea-sized blob of toothpaste. Toothpaste is abrasive and too much can cause wear of the teeth.
- The British Dental Association recommends the gentle scrub method. Place the brush at the neck of the tooth where it meets the gum and use very short horizontal movements, at a 45 degree angle, to dislodge the plaque. The brush can be held in a pen-like grip to avoid excessive force.
- There is some scientific evidence that mouthrinses containing chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorine dioxide or zinc lactate can reduce bad breath somewhat (Cochrane Database Systematic Review 2008, CD006701). Although chlorhexidine is one of the most effective antibacterial mouthrinse ingredients, it tastes nasty and darkens teeth slightly for a few days. Also, look at the label to check if the mouthwash contains alcohol. Alcohol can dry the mouth and make the problem worse.
- You can make your own mouthrinse by dissolving half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) in half a cup of warm water.
- Chamomile and myrrh are said to have anti-bacterial properties. Peppermint, rosemary, sage and cloves have a pleasant smell, which helps to mask bad breath. Pour 1 pint (500 ml) of boiling water onto 2–4 oz (75–125 g) of herb or 1 oz (30 g) of cloves. Leave to cool for 1 hour, then strain and use as a mouthwash (i.e. swish around your mouth and then spit out).
- Health shops stock mouthrinses containing extract of Salvadora persica, a bush grown in Africa and known locally as the toothbrush tree because twigs from it are used to clean the teeth. Chemicals from the plant dissolve plaque. It has a pleasant taste, flavoured with oils of peppermint, clove and geranium, and does not contain alcohol.
If you have dentures, remove them at night and soak them in a solution of hypochlorite or chlorhexidine. A pharmacist will be able to advise you.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 26th 2010
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Many chemicals cause the smell in bad breath including hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan and putrescine.
Garlic rubbed into the soles of the feet can be detected later in the breath
Women clean their teeth more often than men - 76% of women brush their teeth at least once a day, but only 58% of men do (British Dental Association)
Politicians, lawyers, judges and teachers have the worst breath - they talk a lot, so their mouths dry out (Professor M Rosenberg)
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