Bad breath, or halitosis, afflicts most of us at some point or another. If your friends have told you that you have bad breath often (and you know that they are friends if they tell you, because it’s often difficult to detect bad breath ourselves), rather than rely on gums, mints, and mouthwashes that are primarily flavored alcohol, there are things you can do about it.

First, see your dentist. Most halitosis (80-90%) is caused by a buildup of plaque (bacteria that naturally form in the mouth) or by bits of decaying food that have been left between the teeth by improper cleaning. But, in some cases halitosis can be caused by more serious dental problems, such as gingivitis, undiagnosed cavities or gum disease, so it’s best to rule them out.

If there seem to be no dental or systemic issues causing the bad breath, the next step is to become more thorough in your cleaning; a dirty mouth is a smelly mouth. Brush and floss at least twice a day, and consider using a toothpaste that contains tea-tree oil, a natural disinfectant. When you brush, be sure to also brush or scrape your tongue, which can become coated with odor-causing bacteria. If you wear dentures, remove them at night and clean them.

During the day, remember to “wet your whistle.” Saliva helps to keep your mouth clean because it is anti-bacterial, and helps to wash away particles of food. Try to avoid things that dry out the mouth, such as alcohol (including the alcohol in commercial mouthwashes) and, interestingly enough, stress. Naturally, avoid foods that commonly are associated with bad breath, such as onions and garlic. Drink lots of water, and use it to rinse your mouth out several times a day. In addition, some of the following suggestions may prove useful:

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