5 oral hygienist-approved fixes to beat bad breath

Fresh breath month Picture: Supplied

Fresh breath month Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 17, 2022

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If you’ve ever worried that your breath may smell unpleasant, you were probably right. According to experts, almost everyone experiences bad breath at some point.

Bad breath, medically called halitosis, can result from poor dental health habits and may be a sign of other health problems. Bad breath can also be made worse by the types of foods you eat and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.

And, although halitosis is rarely a serious medical issue, it can affect your confidence. Bad breath has even been linked to social anxiety and depression.

If you don't brush and floss teeth daily, food particles can remain in your mouth, promoting bacterial growth between teeth, around the gums and on the tongue. This causes bad breath. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) from poor dental hygiene can also cause bad breath.

Poor oral hygiene can have long-term health consequences, including diabetes, heart disease, and pre-term and low-birthweight babies. Taking proper care of your mouth – which means brushing twice daily and flossing once – is important for your overall health.

Some people may think that they can skip flossing because they don’t have much “space” between their teeth. But experts say that’s not a licence not to floss!

Even children should clean in-between once the teeth begin to touch, which is often when permanent teeth appear. People with bridges, implants or orthodontic braces may find it more awkward, but in those cases, it is as important as ever.

Food is a primary source of bad odours that come from the mouth. Some foods, such as garlic, onions, spicy foods, exotic spices such as curry, some cheeses and fish, and acidic beverages such as coffee can leave a lingering smell. Most of the time the odour is short lived. Other foods may get stuck in the teeth, promoting the growth of bacteria and dental plaques, which causes bad breath odour.

For February’s National Fresh Breath Month, we asked the Oral Hygienists Association of South Africa (Ohasa) to share their top tips to prevent bad breath.

Here are some of their approved fixes to give you fresh-breath confidence:

The key to beating bad breath is removing bacteria and food debris from your mouth. If not removed, these will break down and decay, releasing foul odours in the process.

1 Brushing

Brushing, even when done correctly for a full two minutes, will remove about half the plaque on your teeth and gums. So while brushing twice a day is of paramount importance, on its own, brushing is not enough to prevent oral malodour.

2 Flossing

As your toothbrush can’t reach right between the teeth, daily interdental (between teeth) cleaning is necessary to remove any plaque or food debris trapped there. According to Ohasa, only about a third of South Africans clean between teeth daily and about 40% of them are not doing it correctly. No wonder an estimated half of our population have bad breath at any one time.

Anri Bernardo, recently-elected president of Ohasa, says cleaning between teeth is extra important for people with bleeding gums or periodontal disease.

“Even when periodontal disease is under control, the gums may have receded, forming food traps. It’s vital to clean these areas correctly to prevent further infection as well as bad breath.”

Dirna Grobbelaar, Ivohealth’s oral hygiene adviser and Ohasa member, says there’s no excuse not to clean in-between as there is a multitude of tools available to make it a simple process.

“If you don’t like flossing, try picks (like the award-winning rubber GUM Soft-Picks) or an oral irrigator. Tiny interdental brushes, such as the GUM Bi-Direction, which has a special bendable head so you can even reach between teeth at the far back of the mouth, make excellent options for anyone with orthodontic braces, implants or gaps between the teeth.”

3 Cleaning your tongue

Don’t forget your tongue. Stella Lamprecht, Ohasa’s immediate past president, recommends gentle scraping every day.

“The tongue’s surface has tiny grooves where bacteria and plaque can accumulate. Everyone, from children to older people, should incorporate tongue cleaning into their daily routine. If you do it before bed, it can help prevent morning breath.”

Brush it gently with your toothbrush

Using mouthwash as a final step can give added fresh-breath confidence. Use saltwater or an alcohol-free rinse. Alternatively, chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva and naturally “rinse” the mouth.

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