Unlocking The Secrets To Fresh Breath

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Concern that your breath might smell unpleasant is something most people can relate to, especially before significant events like a date or an important meeting. When you’re feeling nervous your mouth can become dry; it turns out there’s a direct link between dry mouth and bad breath. 

February is National Fresh Breath Month, an ideal time to get ‘fresh’ insights on this smelly subject. We asked South African dental experts to unpack the dry mouth and bad breath connection and share their professional advice on how to tackle this embarrassing issue. 

What causes bad breath?

The South African Dental Association (SADA) and the Oral Hygienists’ Association of South Africa (OHASA), agree with the research – oral issues are the primary culprit when it comes to bad breath, aka halitosis. Other common causes include pungent food and drinks (like garlic), smoking tobacco, and several medical conditions, including sinus infections, respiratory disease, and gastrointestinal issues.

The dry mouth connection

There’s a powerful connection with dryness because the bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in a dry environment. This is why you may experience whiffy morning breath – it’s “normal” according to the South African Dental Association (SADA). “The body produces almost no saliva when you sleep,” explains Dirna Grobbelaar, oral hygiene advisor for Ivohealth. “Saliva is nature’s way of rinsing the mouth. When there’s less saliva, the bacteria feast on dead cells and debris, releasing foul-smelling compounds in the process.” This is exacerbated by breathing through the mouth, which makes the mouth even drier.

If drinking water doesn’t alleviate a thirsty sensation, you may have a chronic condition called ‘dry mouth,’ medically known as xerostomia. Dry mouth is a common side effect of more than 400 medications. It is also linked to hormonal changes (such as menopause) and autoimmune conditions, including diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome. It can be relieved by using a saliva substitute, such as GUM Hydral, designed to hydrate and soothe dry, irritated mouth tissue and available over the counter at pharmacies.

Oral hygienist-approved fresh breath fixes 

When it comes to beating bad breath, whether caused by dry mouth or any other oral issue – dental experts agree that meticulous oral hygiene is critical. Contrary to popular belief, sucking mints is not a lasting solution for halitosis; an effective daily oral care routine will have far more impact. This involves brushing correctly, for at least two minutes twice a day, as well as daily interdental cleaning. 

Bacteria love to hide where your toothbrush can’t reach so use floss or another interdental tool to remove plaque and food debris from between the teeth. Grobbelaar recommends using whatever you find easiest to clean in between as you will be more likely to do it regularly. “Daily practice produces the best results.” 

Floss and interdental tools vary hugely in quality and efficacy and you want to make sure you don’t damage your gums. Grobbelaar is a fan of GUM Soft-Picks, a high-tech version of a traditional toothpick; “Soft-Picks are soft and curved so they can comfortably reach every area of the mouth. They are great to use on the go.” 

Another hiding place for bacteria is the back of the tongue. Gently scrape it daily to remove plaque and food debris. Rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash is a good final step. Alcohol dries out the mouth and is best avoided.

When to seek professional advice 

Understanding the connection between fresh breath and your oral hygiene routine empowers you to take charge and kiss bad breath goodbye, for good. If you find an unpleasant odour persists, it’s time to seek professional advice. Grobbelaar recommends booking an appointment with your dentist or oral hygienist if your breath smells bad for more than two weeks.

For how-to guides and practical advice on how to tackle common oral health issues like bad breath and bleeding gums visit the Ivohealth website. For personalised advice see your dental professional.