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Oral health: How to help bad breath naturally

If you’re scared to exhale in close quarters, dietitian Katrina Pace is to the rescue with simple tips to banish bad breath.

Finishing a cup of coffee has many of us reaching for the extra-strong mints, so imagine how it’d feel if your mouth constantly smelled and tasted like that.

For many people, halitosis, or chronic bad breath, is very real.

Waking with morning breath is quite normal and it usually goes away after brushing your teeth or eating and drinking. Your breath can also smell different after drinking coffee or alcohol or eating spicy food, garlic or onions.

Sometimes you may also think you’ve got bad breath when actually it’s quite okay.

But, if you’re concerned about ongoing bad breath, a trip to your doctor or dentist is in order because it can be an indication there’s something else going on with your health.

The main causes of bad breath

The first place to look for the cause of bad breath is your mouth. Food particles left behind can be broken down by bacteria that release strong-smelling sulphur compounds. People with halitosis may have more of these bacteria present in their mouth. Additionally, not rinsing, brushing or flossing your teeth properly, leading to a build-up of plaque on the teeth, can cause a strong smell in the mouth. Gingivitis, swelling of the gums caused by a build-up of plaque on your teeth, can also cause bad breath.

As can medications, mouth breathing or medical conditions that reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth. Saliva keeps the mouth moist, reducing odour and the build-up of food particles. Strong-smelling breath can also be a symptom of medical conditions. This includes sinus, mouth or throat infections or inflammation and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

High blood sugar, as a result of undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, can cause a sweet, pear-smelling breath. Bad breath may also be a sign of iron deficiency anaemia.

And then there’s what you put in your mouth. Smoking, food and drink potentially all cause bad breath, along with foods that contain high amounts of sulphur compounds such as garlic and onion.

Spiced and strong-flavoured food and drink may also cause problems. Coffee can cause temporary bad breath and alcohol can be a culprit as it’s thought to dry the mouth.

Finally, you may notice the odour of your breath changes if you make dietary changes. A common example is the keto diet, as ketones (a by-product of fat being used for energy) can produce a very strong-smelling, acetone-like breath.

What food can help stop bad breath?

Avoid strong-tasting food and drink and alcohol

Coffee, onions, garlic and spicy foods are the main things to steer clear of, but you may notice there are other foods that cause you a problem. If avoiding all of these doesn’t seem to make any difference, then reintroduce them one at a time.

Drink more water

Being dehydrated may cause a dry mouth. Lack of saliva can play a part in bad breath. Having regular drinks of water during the day may help to stop this happening.

Chew on fresh parsley

In studies, although not on halitosis directly, parsley has been found to reduce the sulphur compounds that often cause bad breath.

Finish your meal with a yoghurt

Lactobacillus bacteria have been found to reduce Streptococcus mutans, one of the bacteria that can cause dental caries and gingivitis, both causes of halitosis. Probiotic yoghurts are high in lactobacilli, making them an excellent preventative.

Choose a high fibre diet and chew well

Results from a small study in Switzerland showed a high-fibre, intensively chewed meal reduced perceived breath odour more, for up to 2½ hours after a meal, compared with a low-fibre, less intensively chewed meal. The reason was thought to be because of the fibrous food helping to clean the tongue.

5 tips to prevent bad breath in the first place

  1. Brush your teeth and floss every day. The basic steps to great oral health will really help.
  2. Replace your toothbrush when the seasons change: 1 March, 1 June, 1 September and 1 December.
  3. Drinking enough water will help keep your mouth moist. A moist mouth has enough saliva, which is important in many ways for oral health.
  4. Eat a varied diet with plenty of fibre and naturally occurring probiotics. Fibre is one of the favourite foods for bacteria that live in our digestive system. Foods, such as yoghurt, that contain naturally occurring probiotics can help us maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in our mouth and the rest of our body.
  5. Get checked out by your doctor or dentist if you are a mouthbreather, have regular sinus or throat infections or have a history of diabetes in your family.

Non-diet strategies to help

Take a trip to the doctor

There may be an underlying cause, so it’s important to have your sinuses, tonsils and throat checked out. Screening for reflux, diabetes and liver and kidney function may also be needed.

Dental hygiene

Make sure your mouth is in tip-top condition every day. Brush your teeth with the right toothbrush and toothpaste and floss between your teeth.

This will help reduce build-up of plaque and food particles that may cause bad breath. Brushing your tongue may also help, but use a baby toothbrush not a tongue scraper or adult toothbrush. Hard materials may damage the cells on the tongue.


A few studies have looked at the use of antimicrobial mouthwashes (containing chlorohexidine or triclosan) for reducing bad breath. Long-term use of some mouthwashes may have side effects such as tooth staining or allergic reactions. Talk to your dentist about whether a mouthwash might help.


We know probiotics are really important in maintaining a healthy digestive system and, as the entrance to that system, your mouth is a good place to start, if you’re trying to get rid of bad breath. Certain types of bacteria have been found to produce more sulphur compounds that cause bad odour. Other types of bacteria increase the risk of plaque and gingivitis, which may also cause bad breath. There are specific probiotic products available to help with oral health.

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