If flowers wilted every time you opened your mouth, the way it happens in cartoons, bad breath would be easy to detect. Unfortunately, real life isn’t that simple. So how do you know if what’s coming out of your mouth is more dragon than delightful?
How to Check Your Breath
The easiest way to get a status update on your breath is to ask. Your friends and family are your best allies for conquering a breath problem: if you’ve got one, they’ve probably noticed. If you’re too embarrassed to ask-or they’re too polite to tell-then watch body language. If people turn away when you’re speaking, your mouth may be emitting more than mere words. Another sign your breath may be less than minty fresh is if you have a bad or stale taste in your mouth. Chances are good that if you’re noticing it, that mouth isn’t kissable.
A little morning unpleasantness in the mouth is normal-that’s why we call it “morning breath”-but it can usually be whisked away with a brushing. If you’ve got morning breath that lasts all day, that’s another sign you may have a problem. And finally, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to do your own breath check, lick the inside of your wrist and give it a sniff: you’ll get an instant reading on the state of your breath.
What To Do About Bad Breath
If you do discover that your breath is less than fragrant, don’t despair! Though it can be an embarrassing problem, it’s not impossible to fix. “You have to treat bad breath as if it’s an infection,” says Anne Bosy, a halitosis specialist who is the founder and chief scientist for OralFresh Clinic System. “Most people don’t-they think it’s an oral hygiene problem, so they scrub and scrub and scrub.” Bad breath is actually caused by bacteria in the mouth-it thrives in dark, moist conditions, and it multiplies more quickly than you can banish it. So although brushing helps dislodge some of those bacteria, it doesn’t really solve the problem. In fact, a nasty-smelling mouth could be an indicator of a more serious health problem. “If somebody’s breath smells bad, it can give you a hint toward what’s going on deeper down,” says Halifax naturopath Colin Huska.
Keep Your Whole Body in Mind
Both Bosy and Huska recommend a holistic-or whole-body-approach to looking at halitosis problems. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables, for example, is an important place to start. Huska says he also looks at digestion: if your body isn’t processing food well you could be emitting a “rotten food smell.” He recommends a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before a meal to help.
Sometimes bad breath is merely a result of eating fragrant foods, like onions or garlic. Rather than banishing them from your diet, Huska recommends noshing on a bit of parsley (it’s naturally high in chlorophyll) or other fresh herbs after eating. “That’s the whole idea behind putting the garnish on your plate,” he says. “You can eat it at the end of your meal.” Not eating at all can be another source of bad breath, as can a dry mouth (a bacterial playground!). Make sure you eat regularly and drink lots of water through the day, or try chewing sugar-free gum to increase saliva production.
Take Care of Your Health
Good oral health care is still fundamental to banishing a breath problem. Brushing and flossing are the most effective ways to keep bacteria at bay, especially between the teeth, where it likes to hang out and multiply. Scraping your tongue with a brush or tongue scraper is another good way to squeeze out bacteria. Mouthwashes are effective, too, as long as they aren’t overused, and watch for high alcohol content: it will dry out your mouth and may ultimately make the problem worse.
Finally, as embarrassing as it might feel, talk to your dentist about your breath: she is your best ally in keeping your mouth healthy. You’ll be wearing a confident smile in no time!