The Best Hacks To Fix Bad Breath, According To Dentists

For those days when you realize your garlic-heavy lunch is going to be a problem at your 1:30 meeting, try some of these smart tips from the experts.
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Long days away from home — and away from your trusty toothbrush — can make for some serious bad-breath situations. Those long gaps between brushing sessions give halitosis-causing bacteria the opportunity to build up in your mouth as the hours tick by.

There can be any number of reasons why someone has bad breath.

“Typically, it’s caused by bacteria on your teeth or tongue, or debris collected on your tonsils,” said Dr. Amber Bonnaig, a dentist. “Other things like tobacco or medications can have an impact as well. It can also be caused by more serious issues, like periodontal disease and untreated tooth decay, both of which result from an overgrowth of bacteria.”

That’s not to say that bacteria aren’t doing their job, because they’re on the scene for a good reason.

“Bacteria in the mouth break down the proteins in the foods you eat and then release volatile sulfur compounds,” or VSCs, explained Marie Paulis, the director of dental hygiene at the University of New Haven. It’s those VSCs that have a bad smell, she added.

For those days when you suddenly realize that your garlic-heavy lunch is going to be a major VSC problem at your 1:30 all-hands meeting, try some of these smart tips from the experts.

Mints and gum, but with a caveat.

Make sure to read the label first.

“Stick with sugar-free products, since bacteria will thrive in your mouth if you feed them sugar,” Paulis said. They’re effective for more than just their great aroma, too.

“They can help stimulate saliva production, which can reduce bad breath,” said dentist Dr. Michael Wei.

While these wintergreen, peppermint and spearmint quick-fixes can be great in a pinch, they’re no substitute for a consistent at-home routine.

“Sucking on mints or chewing minty gum might feel refreshing, but it’s only covering up the problem and isn’t necessarily getting rid of the source,” Paulis said.

Eat apples or yogurt.

“Eating some fruits, like apples, can also calm sulfur compounds in the mouth, as can eating yogurt,” Paulis said.

“They actually help neutralize any bad smells,” Bonnaig said.

Drink up.

“Staying hydrated can help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth,” Wei said. “After you drink, try rinsing your mouth out with water, which can help remove food particles and bacteria, too.”

Grab a spoon.

“Using something like a spoon to scrape potential bacteria off your tongue may help improve breath in an emergency,” Paulis said. This mimics the effect of the ever-popular tongue scraper that has taken TikTok by storm.

Take care of your teeth, not just your breath.

While all these suggestions are great in a pinch, it’s still important to stick to the basics of dental hygiene, both in a regular at-home routine and during dental visits.

“To keep bad breath under control, you should brush the teeth, gums and tongue thoroughly twice per day, and clean between the teeth once a day with floss or a water flosser,” Paulis said.

Remember, you’re in this for the long haul.

“Regular care results in superior overall oral health and better breath,” said dentist Dr. Barry Bartusiak.

His view was echoed by Bonnaig: “Preventive care is so important, because not only will a thorough cleaning remove more bacteria than you can at home, but a dental exam may identify underlying causes of bad breath.”

Dental experts recommended these products for fresh breath on the go:

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Plackers dental flossers
This product was recommended by Marie Paulis, director of dental hygiene at the University of New Haven. Removing bacteria from between your teeth can take away the source of bad breath.
Listerine Pocketpaks breath strips
This product, also recommended by Paulis, promises to kill 99% of the germs that cause bad breath.
"If your bad breath is caused by a dry mouth, then these work well to help stimulate saliva production for a few hours," Paulis said.
Listerine Ready! Tabs chewable mint tablets
"This product will combat the dreaded effects of bad breath," said dentist Dr. Barry Bartusiak.

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