Today, I'm here to talk about bad breath, a very sensitive subject of health and wellness. Also known as halitosis, bad breath is estimated to affect up to 50 percent of the population, with varying degrees of severity.1
Bad breath does not only affect the sufferer, but also those around them. Some go through their daily life completely unaware of this problem, unless they are told directly by people in their social circles. This is a source of discomfort and can be very embarrassing.
If you or someone you love has chronic bad breath, don't worry. Treating bad breath starts with recognizing the fact that conventional bad breath remedies, like mouthwash, can only do so much – and you must turn to your food and lifestyle to completely address this condition.
The Problem with Mouthwashes
Many mouthwashes today contain sodium chlorite, also referred to as chlorine dioxide. Although they claim to freshen you breath for up to six hours, an independent study shows that sodium chlorite can only do so for anywhere from four to 42 minutes. While these mouth rinses focus on altering the chemical composition of the rancid gases, they do nothing to stop the bacteria causing bad breath.2
There are a number of products, like SmartMouth, that contain sodium chlorite mixed with zinc chloride. The zinc ions prevent bacteria from producing gas by blocking their amino-acid receptor sites. Another product called Biotene uses two enzymes that break down biofilm and balance the bacteriapopulation in your mouth .
While they may seem to eliminate bad breath, these bad breath cures work only for a short period of time and will not eliminate odor-causing microbes.
A better option would be to use essential oils like thyme, peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus. Several studies, including one from the University of Rochester Eastman Dental Center, New York, has found that these natural solutions reduce inflammation and plaque that may cause bad breath.
Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, reported that using an essential oil mouthwash was able to reduce the presence of Streptococcus mutans, a strain that causes dental carries, by 75 percent. These oils were also able to prevent bad breath for up to three hours by eliminating odor-producing germs in the mouth.3
Another natural technique that can promote oral health is oil pulling. This ancient Ayurvedic Indian tradition is done by swishing oil in your mouth, "pulling" it between your teeth for 20 to 30 minutes. This practice is said to kill pathogenic bacteria, promote optimal oral hygiene, and detoxify your system.4 If you decide to try this, I suggest using coconut oil.
Here lies another dilemma, however. As with commercial mouth rinses, natural oils only work temporarily and will not address the real cause of bad breath.
Simply put, there really is no shortcut to treating this condition. You must first learn what causes bad breath for it to completely disappear.
Poor Oral Health and Microbial Metabolism in Your Mouth
In most circumstances, halitosis stems from odor-inducing microbes that reside in between your teeth and gums, and on your tongue. It can also be caused by bacteria linked to gum disease.5
Gum disease comes in two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. If not treated immediately, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, which literally means "inflammation around the teeth."6 Both types involve varying degrees of inflammation. Roughly 10 percent of the population has severe gum disease with accompanied halitosis.7
Gum disease-induced bad breath can result in the following:8
- People who have gum disease often have space in between their teeth and gums, where food can get stuck, leading to the proliferation of bacteria.
- In severe cases, individuals experience more blood loss due to bleeding gums. Bad breath can surface from decomposing blood.
It is very important to follow proper oral hygiene practices to prevent bacteria from building up in your mouth. Later, I shall discuss in detail some natural methods that will help promote oral health and keep odor-promoting microbes from spreading in your mouth.
Certain Lifestyle Habits Linked to Bad Breath
Other than being an effect of poor oral hygiene, bad breath can also occur as a consequence of certain things you do. For instance, taking drugs exposes you to a wide number of synthetic, chemical compounds, which are likely linked to a wide variety of side effects, including dry mouth.
It is important not to confuse dry mouth with bad breath. Referred to as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when your saliva production is inhibited. According to one study published in 2000, over 600 drugs have the ability to suppress saliva production. Included in the list are antidepressants, diuretics, and aspirin.9, 10
Unfortunately, saliva plays a significant role in preventing bad breath, as it helps rinse odor-producing germs from your mouth. If you suspect that the root of your foul breath is drug-induced, see your doctor about adjusting your medications.
Another habit that can cause dry mouth (and possibly bad breath) is breathing through your mouth. Paying close attention to how you breathe can remedy this. Snoring can also lead to and worsen dry mouth and bad breath. Being a chronic snorer can be a serious problem and should be addressed, or it may lead to other complications. To find out strategies on how to overcome this, see this previous article I wrote on snoring. Drinking alcohol can also cause you to develop bad breath, since the scent of alcohol lingers in your breath. You may also develop dry mouth upon frequently ingesting alcohol.11
Other problematic habits that may lead to halitosis are smoking and eating certain foods. Cigarette-induced halitosis is one of the more serious forms of bad breath. Cigars contain several chemicals that produce a strong odor and teeth stains.12 If you're looking for ways to curb your smoking habit, here's my advice on how to quit smoking.
Dealing with these factors will not only treat bad breath but will also prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Moreover, there is one major cause that many people do not typically associate with the occurrence of foul breath. I believe that tackling this one problem can help treat and prevent bad breath, along with other health problems.
The Little-Known But Major Cause of Bad Breath and Other Diseases
A healthy digestive system is crucial for optimal overall health. In your gut reside trillions of beneficial bacteria that influence many of your body functions, including your immune system. Studies show that an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut.13
The ratio of good and bad bacteria is a crucial indicator of the condition of your health. Your gut should have a balance of somewhere near 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad.14 An imbalance between good and bad bacteria can predispose you to a wide number of health problems, more serious than bad breath and body odor.
Having less-than-optimal gut flora can make you vulnerable to health conditions linked to bad breath. A fishy smell in the breath suggests kidney problems, while a fruity-smelling breath may mean uncontrolled diabetes.15
This is why reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria is essential for optimal health and disease prevention. But before I enumerate the steps that will help you achieve this, you must first understand how your diet plays a significant role in the imbalance of your gut flora.
Factors That Can Make or Break Your Gut Health
What you eat can positively or negatively impact your gut. The worst foods you can consume are processed, which predominantly contain sugar and grains that break into sugar. These two disrupt your microflora balance by allowing bad bacteria, fungi, and yeast to thrive and multiply, producing metabolic waste products that lead to the deterioration of your health.16
A poor balance of bacteria in your gut also:
- Prevents the absorption of important nutrients
- Prevents the breakdown of toxins
- Promotes allergies
Lessen your consumption of or eliminate refined carbohydrates, soda, fruit juice, and even "healthy" vitamin-infused drinks, as they contain high amounts of sugar.
Apart from sugar, other factors that affect microflora balance are:17
- Antibiotics – They not only kill bad bacteria, but also destroy the beneficial organisms in your gut. Take antibiotics ONLY when absolutely necessary.
- Factory-farmed meats – Meats that come from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, including synthetic hormones and genetically engineered grains, which are linked to the destruction of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water – Some local water companies add chlorine and water in order to filter your water supply. Having a high-quality water filter can reduce your exposure to these dangerous chemicals.
- Antibacterial soap – These soaps contain triclosan, the active compound that kills human cells and promotes growth of bad bacteria.
- Agricultural chemicals, like pesticides – This pollutant can destroy the beneficial bacteria in your gut. You can avoid exposure to pesticides by supporting organic farmers who use sustainable methods to grow food.
How to Restore the Balance in Your Gut
The key to keeping your digestive health at optimal condition is to consume only the healthiest of foods. My comprehensive nutrition plan contains step-by-step ways to promote your diet. But generally speaking, your meals should comprise:18
- Unprocessed whole foods
- Only raw or lightly cooked meals – Try to eat at least one-third of your food raw
- Organic pastured meats and dairy products
- Foods that come from high-quality, organic sources
- Vegetable carbohydrates (with the exception of potatoes)
- Healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocados and raw nuts and seeds
Along with eating a balanced diet, reseeding your gut flora should be an ongoing process, as it is likely that you are exposed to toxic elements every single day. I recommend you optimize your gut bacteria by:
- Eating more fermented foods – What I speak of are the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions of fermented foods and not the supermarket-bought ones, which are often loaded with preservatives and other artificial ingredients.
Ideal choices include fermented organic milk (such as kefir and yogurt), fermented vegetables (including cabbage, turnips, eggplants, carrots), and fermented soy like natto. These cultured sources can supply your gut with billions of beneficial bacteria that support your immune system as well as aid in your body's detoxification.19
Fermented foods can also promote healthy bioflora in your mouth and get rid of Streptococcus mutans. It is ideal to consume cultured foods that are high in Lactobacillus strains and bacteria that possess high concentrations of lactic acid.20
While fermented products can be found in health food stores and Asian markets, it is more economical to make them at home.
- Taking a probiotic supplement – I believe that taking supplements should only be done to support or compensate for a nutritionally deficient diet, as you can mainly get the nutrients your body needs from the food you eat. Probiotic supplements are a great option if you don't consume raw organic vegetables on a daily basis.
Probiotics should also be taken if you're taking certain medications, especially antibiotics. This will help reseed the beneficial organisms that are killed by them.
Brush Your Way to Optimal Oral Hygiene
Brushing and flossing are indeed effective ways to promote a healthy bacteria environment in your mouth, thereby preventing bad breath. However, I urge you to avoid toothpaste that contains fluoride. Rather than prevent cavities and other dental problems, fluoride is actually associated with poor oral health and a number of detrimental health risks.21
Take note that tooth decay is driven by the symbiotic relationship between bacteria and acidity, which is responsible for a pathogenic environment in your mouth. Lowering the pH of your mouth will trigger loss of calcium in your teeth. Deficiency in calcium yields to low teeth porosity, which will allow plaque to become pathogenic and destroy your teeth.
Once microbes penetrate your teeth's enamel, they release enzymes that break down the collagen of your tooth's inner structure. This also leads to cavities.22
In order to neutralize the acidity of your mouth, brush your teeth with baking soda at night. You may even use it as a mouth rinse by dissolving a little in water. Here are some instructions on how to use baking soda effectively at night:23
- When brushing: Wet your toothbrush and dip it into the baking soda. After brushing, your teeth should feel smooth.
- When rinsing: Add about a teaspoon of baking soda in a small glass of water. Swish it around in your mouth and spit out.
- When flossing: Dissolve a small amount of baking soda in water and fill your irrigation instrument. If you're using a WaterPik, make sure it doesn't dry up because it will cause buildup that renders the instrument useless. Always keep water in your irrigation tool and store it upside-down in a glass of baking soda and water. The presence of baking soda will help stop the proliferation of pathogens. Drain it all out and rinse thoroughly with water once every week.
In the morning, I recommend you use toothpaste that contains calcium and phosphate salts, or hydroxyapatite, which can restore minerals to your teeth.
The key to treating and preventing chronic bad breath is to determine its root cause and address it head on. Optimizing your gut flora will also go a long way in preventing halitosis, as it strengthens your immune system and balances the population of bacteria in your gut.
Also, work on upholding optimal oral health practices to prevent plaque buildup and odor-producing microbes from proliferating in your mouth. For more information on safe oral hygiene practices, check out my interview with biological dentist Dr. Tim Rainey.