You can expect a temporarily putrid mouth after indulging in some fettuccini alfredo or an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese. That’s a given. But onion and garlic shouldn’t get all the blame for bad breath.
The reason for your bad breath lies more in your oral hygiene than your diet. “Bad breath usually comes from what we call ‘stinky sulfur compounds,’ [which makes] that rotten egg smell,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City. “That’s from the bacteria that’s underneath your gum line, on your tongue, [and] on the inside of your cheeks.”
The stench comes from bacteria in your mouth, which feed on the plaque on your teeth. Plaque is that layer of film that builds up on your teeth. When plaque isn’t cleaned off, it can contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, and—yep—bad breath.
So to keep bad breath at bay—without giving up garlic bread—here are tips from Dr. Jablow for a fresher, cleaner mouth every day.
1. Maintain good oral hygiene.
Once you know the cause of bad breath, the best solution is obvious: Remove the plaque buildup on your teeth by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. With less plaque stuck on your teeth, your mouth will be a less inviting place for bacteria and you’ll be less prone to bad breath.
2. Use alcohol-free mouthwash.
Mouthwashes with alcohol may freshen breath initially, but the results won’t last. “Alcohol dries out the mouth and you’ll actually get worse rebound bad breath,” explains Dr. Jablow.
Your own saliva is actually your sidekick when it comes to fighting bad breath. With saliva constantly flowing in your mouth, the fluid helps rinse away bacteria on the teeth throughout the day. (Drinking water helps, too.)
When the mouth is dry, bacteria can run rampant in the mouth and create more of a stench, so you’ll be reaching back for the mouthwash all day long.
Dr. Jablow also suggests finding a mouthwash with a zinc compound or with xylitol. These would be classified as therapeutic mouthwashes, according to ADA, which actually reduce plaque and bacteria, as opposed to simply masking odor temporarily.
3. Try sugar-free candies.
A dentist recommending candy? It sounds strange, but it may help get rid of bad breath.
The reason is because sugar-free candies contain xylitol. “Xylitol helps make plaque less sticky to the teeth,” says Dr. Jablow. “It also promotes neutralizing an acid environment, so you have a very healthy pH in your mouth and the bacteria can’t thrive there.”
On the other hand, here are the worst candies for your teeth.
4. Chew on parsley.
“Parsley has natural chlorophyll so that will help to activate against the bad breath,” says Dr. Jablow. Other herbs (like basil, mint, and cilantro) can also help, but many people find parsley the most pleasant to much on its own. Bring on the tabbouleh salad, #amirite?
5. Brush before bed.
You obviously want to brush your teeth before heading to work in the morning, but it’s possibly even more important to brush before bed.
Remember how saliva helps fight away plaque? Well, your saliva production goes way down at night while you sleep. That means plaque and bacteria fester throughout the night, leading to a somewhat inevitable case of morning breath.
You can’t beat morning breath entirely, but you can minimize it by brushing your teeth before bed and starting the night with a clean mouth. And don’t forget your tongue: It’s a hot spot for bacteria to linger, according to ADA.
The Importance of Seeing Your Dentist
If you’re falling good oral care practices and still having smelly breath—with or without eating sour cream and onion chips—there might be an underlying health condition that’s affecting your breath.
In addition to getting a professional cleaning to reduce plaque, visiting your dentist regularly can also help detect health issues that may be causing bad breath. “Your dentist can see if maybe it’s something with your gum tissue,” says Dr. Jablow, “or maybe there’s a problem [with] your stomach, or even possibly your tonsils.”
Otherwise, brush up! Find out a dentist’s rules for choosing the right toothbrush here.