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Treating bad breath

Published:Saturday | April 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Karen Desnoyers gets her breath tested at the Huntington Woods, Michigan, dentist offiice of Dr Lanny Lesser.

This is the second instalment of a two-part series written by Heather Little-White on the issue of bad breath. The first part was published on Saturday, April 10.


Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners under the brand names Equal, Equal-Measure and NutraSweet have been given a bad rap. They have been blamed from everything from panic attacks and seizures to vision impairment, memory loss and migraines. Bad breath may be caused by the use of artificial sweeteners because products with sugar can make breath worse, leading to tooth decay - causing bacteria to multiply in their mouths. Unwittingly, people seek relief from halitosis by using products containing aspartame.


Mouthwash is a temporary measure against bad breath. It only masks the odour instead of tackling the source of your problem. Some brands of commercial mouthwash are high in alcohol content. Try to find a mouthwash that has as little alcohol as possible because alcohol will make the problem worse.

Caution: Frequent use of a mouthwash with more than 25 per cent alcohol has been linked to an increased incidence of oral cancer. For a non-alcoholic mouthwash, use a mixture of 50 per cent hydrogen peroxide (three per cent solution) and 50 per cent water, and swirl it around for 30 seconds and spit out the solution. Almost all toothpastes contain soap (sodium lauryl sulfate), which dries out the mouth, leading to bad breath.

Dietary choices

Develop a healthy diet. Reduce junk food, sweets and soft drinks and consume more fresh fruits and vegetables. It is important to drink plenty of water to keep your digestive system in good working order.

Eliminating certain types of foods, such as high-fat foods, meat, sugar, exotic spices and dairy products is the next step in pinpointing the cause of bad breath. The types of food you eat may be one of the reasons for your bad breath. Acidic foods, for instance, create an environment for bacterial growth. High-fat and high-protein foods may not digest well and give off gas. Some people have a hard time metabolising meat and dairy products, with the result being bad breath.

Sugary foods are a problem as the bacteria in the back of the throat feed off the sugar.

Garlic, onions and exotic spices (such as curry) are common sources of problems for many people. As these foods are digested, certain compounds are transmitted from the blood through the lungs and exhaled for up to 24 hours.

Cheeses, such as blue, Camembert and Roquefort, fish, especially canned tuna and anchovies, and spicy deli meats are often the culprits.

Beverages such as coffee and tea are other possible sources of bad breath. They are both very acidic. Cut back on these and see what happens.

Eat more fruits, especially kiwi, papaya and pineapple, which contain digestive enzymes. Vegetables are very important, too, especially leafy green ones.


A deficiency of B vitamins may be the cause of your bad breath, so try taking 50mg of niacin with each meal, plus a high-potency B complex tablet and 50mg of B6 once a day.

Vitamin C, in divided daily doses of 1,000-6,000mg, will help rid the body of excess mucus and toxins.

A deficiency in zinc may be another cause. Do not take more than 15mg of zinc for more than a week or 10 days without medical supervision, as high levels of zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper.

Digestive system

Another step to take is to improve your whole digestive system. By changing your digestion, you may well eliminate the cause of your bad breath. A high-fibre diet emphasising whole grains and fruits and vegetables is essential for optimum digestion.

Your system may be lacking in enzymes necessary for proper digestion. This is especially prevalent in older people. To remedy this, take two to four tablets of digestive enzymes with each meal.

A probiotic supplement will prevent an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.

Since hydrochloric acid production declines with age, take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before each meal.

Herbal Remedies

Alfalfa tablets may help eliminate bad breath.

Chew anise, cardamom, dill or fennel seeds to help mask odours. Anise, the licorice-flavoured seed, kills the bacteria that cause odour.

Cloves are a powerful antiseptic. Make a tea by putting three whole or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves in two cups of hot water, and steep for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour through a fine strainer and use as a mouthwash or gargle twice a day.

Chew the leaves of fennel and allow the saliva to build up in your mouth. Or, mix the contents of a fennel capsule with baking soda, make into a paste, and brush your teeth, gums and tongue with it. The fluid extract of fennel can be rubbed on your gums and tongue.

Chewing mint, parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme and wintergreen will help reduce bad breath.

Suck a lemon wedge sprinkled with salt to stop onion or garlic breath.


Routine activities

Brush teeth soon after consuming commonly eaten foods with strong odours - foods like curry, garlic, crisps, chips, chocolate, coffee, red meat, raw onion and cabbage. It is important to develop a brushing/flossing routine to remove particles of food between the teeth as bacteria start to work on food particles and digest them, an unpleasant smell develops.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to or fax 922-622