Cures for Halitosis?

As a dentist, and an oral care expert, I am constantly being asked about cures for bad breath. Some are more out-there than others. While there are many so-called cures for halitosis, are they really effective? Here are some that you might find interesting and are definitely worth noting.

I’m a big believer in using specialty breath-freshening products to bust bad breath. These include rinsing with an odor-neutralizing mouthwash, gently using a tongue scraper and having an oral probiotics regimen. But can chewing roots or herbs be a natural halitosis cure?  The notion that herbs can help cure bad breath has been around for a long time and it’s totally unfounded. Natural herbs and spices such as turmeric, coriander, mint and sage have been used for hundreds of years to freshen breath. While these flavorful fighters help to cover up bad breath, they really don’t address the bacteria that cause it. The journal Internal and Emergency Medicine states that an ancient Egyptian cure for halitosis can be found in the Eber Papyrus which dates back to 1550 BC. What was Greek physician Hippocrates’s suggestion to kill oral odor? This Father of Western Medicine suggested rinsing one’s mouth with anise, dill seeds and wine. Herbal remedies for bad breath aren’t just a thing of the past –  you can find many books at your local bookstore that recommend remedies such as eating items to freshen breath that include: celery, parsley, coriander, cabbage and carrots. The book Prescription for Herbal Healing, written by nutritional consultant Phyllis Balch, lists tea tree oil, alfalfa, cat’s claw, hawthorn and grape root to strike oral odor. Are these natural elements a cure for halitosis? While they can help take care of bad breath, long term they won’t affect the bacteria in the oral cavity, so halitosis will reoccur. The best bet to neutralize bad breath at its source it to use oral care products that address the volatile sulfur compounds that cause it. However, there’s nothing wrong with snacking on some crisp fruits and vegetables to help the process along – just be sure to brush afterwards so you don’t give oral microbes more to eat and thrive.

Have you ever heard about peppers being a cure for bad breath? If so, you aren’t alone. I received a question from Andrew asking if chewing on chili peppers helped to stop halitosis by killing odors and stimulating saliva in the his mouth. According to his family, this was a sure fire way (no pun intended) to clear his mouth of oral odor. His family did have the right idea to an extent, but using spices to fight oral odor may actually backfire. You see, peppers themselves contain large quantities of volatile sulfur compounds and these are what cause the strong odor of bad breath. Chili peppers would be on the top foods that cause bad breath list if onions and garlic didn’t already have a strong hold on it. So how was Andrew’s family right? Anyone who has bitten into a chili pepper will agree that they definitely kick up saliva production in your mouth. This little extra burst of saliva can help keep the bacteria in the oral cavity from reproducing temporarily. Where did Andrew’s family get this notion? The journal Medicus Judaicus does state that it was an ancient Jewish custom to suggest that rabbis with less than desirable breath should eat a pepper.  However, seeing that this isn’t a very wide-spread suggestion, it’s safer to stick to modern-day products that can truly bust bad breath.

Going from something spicy as a cure for halitosis, let’s talk about something sweet: honey. Honey has been known for centuries to have benefits beyond just sweetening your food. But can if really fix bad breath? According to an article in the Weekly World News (WWN), it can. The article states that Southeast Asians and South Americans enjoy honey and cinnamon to fight stinky oral odor. It is also important to point out that this now extinct tabloid didn’t exactly have the reputation for being completely factual. This article addressing honey and cinnamon to stop halitosis is right alongside other articles with headlines like “Atlantis Ruins Food in Lake Erie!” and “Demons from Hell Kill 11 in Church Attack!” so you get the idea. That’s not to say honey is a bad suggestion. It’s sweet and has almost no odor and if strong smelling foods (like onions and garlic) and cause bad breath, could something sweet have the converse effect? Not exactly. That’s because any food that is ingested is just more fuel for the microbes that cause bad breath. At the same time, not eating or drinking anything at all can also give you halitosis according to a review of the causes of oral odor in the Journal of the American Dental Association. The review stated that people fasting are often afflicted with a dry mouth which gives a perfect place for volatile sulfur compounds to thrive – they love non-oxygenated environments. There are still efforts to truly determine whether honey is a way to stop bad breath. A Conference of the International, Canadian and American Journals of Dental Research held in 2010 had a presentation on a study about manuka honey. Japanese scientist found that the particular type of honey (manuka) appeared to decrease halitosis quite a bit, as compared to acacia-based honey. What is manuka honey? It’s very dark and rich and is made in New Zealand by bees that pollinate manuka bushes. In the conference presentation, the researchers stated that manuka honey has 127 times the amount of methylglyoxal than acacia honey. Methylglyoxal is an antimicrobial compound and the team concluded that this is the best honey (as compared to acacia-based honey) to treat bad breath. So don’t ditch the honey, but I would suggest using it in addition to other oral hygiene products rather than just relying on the bees to solve your halitosis.

We’ve gone through a few so-called cures for halitosis. Herbs may work temporarily. Chili peppers – probably not the best idea. Honey might have something going for it. No matter what foods you ingest, keep in mind that the particles left behind from could ultimately give you bad breath rather than take it away. The best way to stop bad breath is to brush, floss and rinse at least twice a day with products that are guaranteed to fight halitosis.

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