a little mint, a swish of mouth- wash, a package of chewing gum -- all talismans against dreaded bad breath. The fear of emitting smelly air is a collectively experienced insecurity -- and the source of ferocious revenues for companies wily enough to cash in. But these products are usually just a cover-up for more covert health problems. If you suspect bad breath, brace yourself -- the only way to know for sure is to ask a trusted friend or family member to sniff and tell. If the verdict is malodorous mouth, in about 90 per cent of cases the problem is bacteria in the mouth breaking down food particles and releasing pungent, sulphur-laden gases as a by-product.
More rarely, bad breath is related to the use of certain medications and to serious disorders such as diabetes, kidney failure or gall bladder dysfunction.
A subspecies of the problem, morning breath, is pretty well a fact of life. It has to do with the fact that we produce very little saliva while sleeping, and that gives bacteria in our mouths a chance to multiply, all the while releasing gas. Rinsing your mouth or having a snack clears morning breath. Another kind of dawn smell called hunger breath is caused by the decay of pancreatic juices that have entered your stomach during the night. It only goes away if you eat something -- another reason to down some breakfast.
Some strange breath odours emanate from very healthy edibles like fish, raw garlic, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts and peppers, others from nasty stuff like red meat, cigarettes, alcohol and coffee. Stress tends to dry the mouth, encouraging bacteria to do their smelly thing, so bone up on your relaxation techniques.
Quick natural remedies for mild halitosis include chewing parsley, or cloves, or downing a little chlorophyll in water. Brushing teeth and gently brushing your tongue and the insides of your cheeks is mandatory. Persistent odours require help from your dentist, who will look for bacterial breeding grounds. If the root of your problem isn't in your mouth, you'll need an MD or naturopath.