Kiss bad breath goodbye

Italians chew parsley, Iraqis stick a clove between their teeth, Indians use fennel seeds and most people believe in the fresh breath restoring powers of mint.

But according to the world’s leading oral health expert Dr Mel Rosenberg, the most important thing you can do to keep your breath fresh is practice good oral hygiene.

Dr Rosenberg, a Professor of Microbiology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, has worked on the diagnosis and treatment of bad breath for over twenty years.

A universal problem
Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a universal condition that can have a devastating effect on our personal and professional lives.

Dr Rosenberg’s research has found that as many as 30% of people have a chronic problem, and that one in five worry about having bad breath.

“These are two largely distinct populations, because it is so difficult for someone to know whether or not they suffer from it,” says Rosenberg.

Digestive system not to blame
Rosenberg says that it is a myth that bad breath often comes from the digestive system.

“In the majority of cases (85 to 90%) the problem originates in the mouth and is generally caused by bacteria breaking down postnasal drip, food debris and your own cells.”

Unhealthy oral hygiene habits are usually the cause of bad breath, not the digestive system. In addition to brushing the teeth twice daily Rosenberg recommends flossing, cleaning the tongue and rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash.

Curing the culprits
Post-nasal drip and food debris can accumulate at the back of the mouth and on the tongue, so this area should be gently cleaned with a tongue scraper.

Flossing removes bacteria from between the teeth - where a brush can’t reach, and gargling before bedtime should both be part of one’s daily oral hygiene routine.

Drinking insufficient fluids is another factor to consider. “Because the bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in a dry mouth it is important to maintain a good water balance, especially in hot weather. This helps to produce enough saliva. Dry mouth – which is exacerbated by mouth breathing, stress, alcohol and many medications – is a big risk factor for malodorous breath.”

According to Dr Rosenberg the best way to test for bad breath is to ask an adult family member or close friend. Or ask your dentist or oral hygienist for advice.

Rosenberg says that approximately 20% of people fear that they have bad breath even though they don’t; at its most extreme this can become halitophobia.

What causes bad breath?
Approximately 85 to 90% of bad breath originates in the mouth and is usually a result of poor oral hygiene. It can also be caused by some medical conditions, such as dysfunctions of the kidneys or liver, infections of the bronchi and lungs and certain metabolic diseases, however, this is rare.

Five percent of bad breath problems originate in the nose or sinuses, with 3 to 5% originating from the tonsils. Although it is commonly believed bad breath originates in the stomach, it is extremely rare for bad breath to linked to gastrointestinal problems.

The bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in a dry mouth and saliva is nature’s way of washing away the bacteria. Alcohol can dry out the mouth tissues, as can sleeping with an open mouth, certain medications, fasting, dieting, insufficient fluid intake, talking for prolonged periods etc. Hormonal changes can also cause bad breath e.g. at the onset of menstruation.

What should I do if I have bad breath?
As bad breath mostly originates in the mouth consult your dentist. It is advisable to mention when booking your appointment that you will be asking for advice about bad breath.

If the dentist knows that the consultation is about bad breath, you may be asked not to eat, drink, smoke, and chew gum or sweets or use breath fresheners beforehand so that the odour will be more typical. You should also avoid using perfume since it can interfere with the assessment.

Can gum disease cause bad breath?
Yes, in some cases bad breath is associated with gum disease. Bad breath and gum disease can both be caused by not cleaning between the teeth effectively. It is essential to include flossing in your daily oral hygiene routine as interdental cleaning is very important.

Is bad breath always treatable?
Until recently, bad breath was often considered to be an incurable affliction. However, in recent years it has become increasingly evident that bad breath is usually treatable once a proper diagnosis is made.

What type of treatment is there?
Your dentist may recommend dental treatment to rid the mouth of areas where food can get trapped and bacteria can hide and develop. Your dentist may also refer you to a clinic that specializes in identifying breath odours, or to other medical experts.

Daily treatment may include an effective oral hygiene routine and night-time rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash, which has been scientifically shown to reduce bad breath over time.

Listed below are tips on how to handle bad breath. Remember that bad breath is a problem that can be solved with attention. Don't mask it - deal with it.


  • Brush your teeth and gums properly twice a day.
  • Use a tongue scraper to clean your tongue gently but thoroughly on a daily basis.
  • Floss or otherwise clean between your teeth as recommended by your dentist. Choose unscented floss so that you can detect those areas between your teeth that give off odours, and clean them more carefully.
  • Ask your dentist to recommend an alcohol-free mouthwash, which has been shown to be clinically effective in fighting bad breath and removing food particles. Use it most effectively right before sleeping.
  • Drink plenty of liquids but avoid too much coffee or alcohol.
  • Chewing parsley, mint, cloves or fennel seeds may help, especially if your mouth feels dry. Chewing sugarless gum for a few minutes when the mouth is dry can be particularly helpful.
  • Clean your mouth after eating or drinking protein foods such as dairy products, fish and meat.
  • Visit your dentist regularly and have your teeth cleaned periodically by a dental professional. Ask them to show you how to properly brush and floss at home.
  • If you have dentures, unless your dentist advises otherwise, soak them overnight in an antiseptic solution.
  • Ask an adult family member to tell you whenever you have bad breath.
  • If someone close to you has bad breath find a kind way to let them know.


  • Don't let your concern about having bad breath ruin your life. There are solutions to this problem.
  • Don't forget to clean your gums or behind the back teeth - you can lose your teeth and suffer from bad breath.
  • Don't drink too much coffee or alcohol which can dry out the mouth and make the situation worse. Milk residue in the mouth can release unpleasant volatile compounds.

Source: Dr Mel Rosenberg, Professor of Microbiology at Tel Aviv University's Department of Oral Biology.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24