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Give bad breath the brush

Ian Kreher

Does bad breath leave a bad taste in your mouth? Are odor-masking mints your mainstay?

Bad breath, or halitosis, is a delicate, often taboo topic, an embarrassing "social disease" that affects not only the perpetrator but those around him.

It's one thing if your lovable dog has foul breath, said Dr. Constance Wilson, a Lewisburg member of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.

But people, not so much.

Despite assorted rating techniques and machines to measure mouth gases, the "primary reference standard" remains the human nose, according to the American Dental Association.

It may be subjective, but you'll generally know stinky breath when you smell it.

(And, in fact, an actual bad taste in your mouth, literally, doesn't always mean bad breath.)

Interestingly, those with halitophobia, or phantom halitosis, may be convinced they have bad breath, but it isn't measurable or noticeable to others, a topic of some debate on Web forums like

While dentists like Dr. Randall Platon of Mountville don't report an abundance of patients in need of breath control, or halitosis as a "hot topic" on the profession's radar, the problem can still exist as a dirty little secret.

An estimated 25 percent of Americans suffer from chronic bad breath, and many more suffer from it occasionally (say, post-onions) or are at risk of it from periodontal disease, which affects 70 percent of Americans, according to the ADA.

Some researchers say nearly all adults have, at the very least, some morning breath and that even half the adult population has bad breath, with half of those having a severe, ongoing problem.

In 2007, Americans spent nearly $6.7 billion on mouth-freshening products, reported Euromonitor International, a market-research firm. And new bad breath busters are continually being introduced to the marketplace.

Platon said the bottom line when you're talking bad breath is bacteria, which releases sulfur compounds and likes to set up shop in cavities and swollen gums (occasionally tonsils) and flourishes in plaque.

"The tongue also harbors a lot of bacteria," he said.

Everything from medical problems (like diabetes and sinus conditions), medications, stinky food and dry mouth to smoking and diet contribute to bad breath, but one of the main culprits is poor dental care. Particles of food remain in the mouth and collect bacteria.

Saliva is actually the body's natural mouth rinse that washes and dilutes odor-causing bacteria.

Bad breath may also signal the presence of other medical conditions, like respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal disturbance.

So what can you do to banish bad breath?

The bottom line for knocking out bacteria is good dental care, Platon said.

"Brush (including the tongue) and floss and get regular dental checkups."

(Two to three minutes per brushing session is said to be optimal.)

Keep your mouth hydrated.

And, if you have any questions, consult your dentist.

Information about detection, causes, prevention and treatment are readily available at the websites for the Pennsylvania and American Dental Associations (

Dr. Harold Katz, founder of The California Breath Clinics, has even produced the 48-page "Bad Breath Bible," which examines symptoms, causes and cures of halitosis, and comes in both digital and hard-copy formats. (Google Bad Breath Bible.) Katz has also created the alcohol-free TheraBreath mouthwash.

Should you rinse and swish with mouthwashes or rinses?

That depends on your preferences.

Most rinses are, at the very least, effective oral antiseptics that freshen the mouth and curb bad breath for up to three hours. Their success in preventing tooth decay, gingivitis (inflammation of the gingival gum tissue) and periodontal disease is limited, however.

Antiplaque/antigingivitis rinses and anticavity fluoride rinses may be available through prescription.

The efficacy of breath-freshening mouthwashes and rinses is continually debated by dentists and the production companies, and statistics regarding the ultimate effectiveness are as prolific as breath mints. There are traditional alcohol-containing mouthwashes, like Listerine, touted to kill germs, or alcohol-free ones like Crest Pro-Health. A newer class of mouthwashes, such as Katz's TheraBreath and Oxyfresh, contain sodium chlorine dioxide, which is sometimes used as a water purifier, and claim to freshen breath for six hours, but again, this has been disputed.

Rinses and mouthwashes are not considered substitutes for regular dental examinations and good oral care.

To give bad breath the brush, get out your toothbrush and toothpaste, and don't forget the floss.

Home solutions

Here are three make-your-own mouth rinses:

1. Saline solution rinse: 1/2 teaspoon salt in 8 ounces water

2. Stronger saline rinse: 1/2 teaspoon salt plus 4 ounces water

3. Sodium bicarbonate: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus 8 ounces water

From Lancaster Online