Bad Breath: Shut your mouth

FOR many centuries bad breath has torn thousands of relationships apart and drove many people to a life of solitude. With the advent of hundreds of products dedicated to mouth care – from toothpaste to mouthwashes – it remains to be a wonder why bad breath continues to run rampant in this modern age.

According to estimates, over 60 million people worldwide suffer from bad breath. "In the Philippines, the incidence of halitosis, conservatively speaking, may be 75 percent or higher for the general population," reports Dr. Philip S. Chua, a medical columnist. "This is a rough guesstimate, and the figure, of course, varies in different subgroups in the community."

As a general rule, bad breath is less among those who live in the city, compared to rural areas, those who are more affluent, higher in socio-economic status, those who are more educated or professional, and those in the younger generation. "But realistically, just about anyone, in any profession or walk of life, may have annoying bad breath, persistently or occasionally," Dr. Chua reminds.

Celebrities themselves are not spared from this social disease. For example, the quintessential Hollywood leading man Clark Gable had bad breath according to his leading lady, Vivien Leigh. Here's what she said about him: "Kissing Clark Gable in 'Gone with the Wind' was not that exciting. His dentures smelled something awful."

Until a few years ago, the most doctors could do was to counsel patients with bad breath about oral hygiene. Now, they are finding new ways to treat the usually embarrassing but curable condition:

Avoid those foods that cause bad breath. Highly-spiced foods like to linger long after the party's over. Spices tend to stay and recirculate through essentials oils they leave in your mouth. Depending on how much you eat, the odor can stay in your mouth up to 24 hours; no matter how often you brush your teeth.

Don't skip eating breakfast."Miss breakfast and it's a good bet you may have tainted breath all morning along," explains Dr. Joseph Tonzetich, professor of oral biology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "You usually have tainted breath until you take in some food. A lot of people who go without breakfast have bad breath at least until lunchtime."

Complete your dining with water. Whether you're having a quick snack or a multicourse meal, a water chaser is the ideal after-dining drink. "Swishing a mouthful of water is a great way to get rid of odors caused by food and drink," says Dr. David S. Halpern, of the Academy of General Dentistry. Drinking of water is especially recommended after having coffee, tea, soft drinks or alcohol.

Eat vitamin-C rich fruits. "Some cases of bad breath - particularly those caused by stress and taking drugs - are the result of your mouth being too dry," says Dr. Tonzetich. "Citrus fruits and other foods high in citric acid are very good at stimulating saliva. The acid also helps suppress the activity of some odor-causing enzymes, while the 'tangy' taste of lemons, oranges and grapefruit helps freshen your mouth."

Carry a toothbrush - always! Some odors can be eliminated - permanently or temporarily - if you brush immediately after eating. At any time, there are 50 trillion of microscopic organisms loitering in your mouth. They sit in every dark corner, eating each morsel of food that passes your lips, collecting little smells, and producing little odors of their own. As you exhale, the bacteria exhale. So brush away those organisms after each meal and get rid of some of the breath problem.

"Perhaps the most overlooked way of eliminating bad breath is to brush the top surface of the tongue when you brush your teeth," says Dr. Tonzetich. "Although there are many causes of bad breath, usually the odor arises from the surface of the tongue." That's because the tongue is covered with microscopic, hair-like projections that trap and harbor plaque and food, says Dr. Eric Shapira, assistant clinical professor at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Franciso. A daily, gentle brushing (including the top of your tongue) dislodges these odorous particles.

Give it a wipe. If you have forgotten to carry a toothbrush, don't worry. "Simply take a hanky or a piece of gauze and give your tongue a good wiping," advises Dr. Halpern. "Even a quick wipe is good for removing the coating on your tongue that can cause bad breath."

When you can't brush, you can always rinse. Go to the restroom after meals and get a mouthful of water, swish it around, and wash the smell of food from your mouth, says Dr. Jerry Taintor, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry. Spit the water out, of course. However, if you can't excuse yourself from the table, take a sip from your water glass and discreetly circulate the water across and around your teeth. Then swallow those potentially offending bits of food.

When bad breath continues despite your best efforts to remedy it, your problem may be more than just going a little too heavy on the garlic. It can be a warning sign of a serious medical condition. "If your halitosis hangs on more than 24 hours without an obvious cause, see your dentist or doctor," advises Dr. Roger Levin, an official of the Maryland Academy of General Dentistry.

A recent survey conducted in the Philippines showed that majority (about 81 percent of the respondents) still prefer good oral hygiene over good looks.

"Even if he looks like a movie actor or a real hunk, I won't allow myself to be kissed by a person whose breath smelled like how a rotten egg smelled," a 22-year-old college student said.
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