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Beating Bad Breath

Bad breath is an annoying and often embarrassing problem. It can also be a symptom of a more serious medical problem.

Dentist Dr. Nancy Rosen tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith the leading causes of bad breath are life habits, "like smoking and alcohol consumption. And another would be medical problems - if someone has diabetes, stomach problems, sinus infections, medication that someone would take."

According to the most current research, over 90 percent of all cases of chronic bad breath originate in the mouth, not in the stomach, sinuses, or lungs.

Virtually all cases of bad breath are caused by Volatile Sulfur Compounds (VSCs). One compound is hydrogen sulfide (the rotten egg smell) and another is methyl mercaptan (the essence of skunk oil).

The source of these compounds is bacteria in the mouth breaking down the cell wall of dead cells. These anaerobic bacteria collect and multiply mainly on the tongue. They thrive in a dry, dark environment such as under the gums, the spaces between the teeth, and the crevices of the tongue.

Here is how to prevent bad breath:

  • Brush your teeth at least two times every day, using a fluoride toothpaste. Be sure to brush along the gumline, as well as all tooth surfaces. Each time you brush your teeth, use your toothbrush to clean the surface of your tongue.

    "I love the power toothbrushes," Rosen says. "It eliminates a lot of the plaque, and plaque is bacteria, and the bacteria is what causes the bad breath."

  • Floss your teeth at least once a day to remove food from between your teeth. "And you also must, must, must scrape your tongue," Rosen says. "If you're not scraping your tongue, you're still going to have bad breath."
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables every day. Eat less meat.
  • Avoid certain foods that cause you to have bad breath. These foods might include onions, garlic and pastrami. Alcoholic beverages often cause bad breath.
  • Avoid using tobacco products. Any kind of tobacco can cause halitosis.
  • Sometimes a dry mouth has an unpleasant odor. If your mouth is dry, you can suck on sugar-free mints, chew sugar-free gum or drink water. But Rosen warns, "Certain mints or gum will just mask the problem. You don't want to use anything that has sugar in it."
  • Most mouthwashes do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you use a mouthwash, swish it around in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out.

    "Make sure that the mouthwash you are using is alcohol-free," Rosen says. "A lot of the mouthwashes like Listerine or Scope, they do contain alcohol and if you are using them, you need to dilute it because the alcohol actually dries out the mouth and bacteria love that."

  • If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night. Brush the dentures and soak them overnight in a disinfecting solution. Removable braces should also be cleaned. Follow the directions of your dentist.
  • See your dentist twice a year to have your teeth cleaned.
  • If you still have bad breath, see your family doctor to find out what is causing it.