You may have wondered from time to time if the whole concept of bad breath wasn’t invented by the modern makers of toothpaste and mouthwash. But while advertising has certainly heightened our attention and sensitivity to “halitosis,” the world’s earliest known medical writings (including those of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks) mused on the problem of stinky breath and proposed cures — like sucking on sweets infused with frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon, using a toothbrush with bristles made of pig’s hair, and chewing on certain kinds of twigs.
While the remedies have advanced, we’re still grappling with the same problem a few thousand years later.
What accounts for the enduring desire not to cause olfactory offense?
Some evolutionary biologists speculate that all body odors — including one’s breath — play a role in mate selection, acting as a signal of health or disease. Or, it may just be that humans simply don’t like stinky and icky things — that our brains viscerally recoil at the scent of postnasal drip stewing on another person’s tongue (yes, that’s part of what causes bad breath).
Whatever’s behind our dislike for bad breath, and however the stigma has been deepened in the modern day, the bottom line is that halitosis can be detrimental to one’s professional, social, and romantic endeavors. If people seem to stand a little farther back from you than normal, or your lady friend is not so eager to receive your smooches, maybe it’s time you beat your bad breath and became more confident getting intimate with folks.
Today we’ll talk about how.
How Do You Know If You Have Bad Breath?
Knowing whether your breath smells bad or not is a lot like knowing whether you’ve got a pleasant or shrill sounding voice. You often can’t tell on your own.
And because most people are kind and thoughtful, they’re not going to tell you to your face that your breath reeks to high heaven. So it’s pretty easy to go through life with no clue that you have a dumpster mouth.
If you suspect your pie hole is piping out noxious fumes, the easiest way to know for certain is simply to ask someone you trust. They’ll let you know. Luckily, I’ve got a wife who doesn’t beat around the bush about things. If my breath is terrible, she’ll tell me it smells like I just ate a diaper that I found on the beach and that frenching is on hiatus until things improve.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone if your breath smells bad, you can try to check it out yourself. You’ve probably seen the trick where someone breathes into their hand and then smells it. That can work sometimes, but it’s not fail-proof.
There are two better ways to figure out if your breath smells on your own. First, smell your dental floss after you’ve used it. If it smells like the inside of a used protein shaker that’s been sitting in a hot car for three days, you’ve got bad breath. Second, get a tongue scraper (see below) and use it. Smell the gunk that accumulates on the scraper. If it gives you dry heaves, you’ve got bad breath.
Time to tackle it.
What Causes Bad Breath?
The causes of bad breath are many and varied, and will determine how you treat it.
Bacteria build-up in mouth due to poor oral hygiene. Ever wonder why bad breath can smell like butt? Well, it’s because your bad breath is the collective “fart” of millions of bacteria in your mouth. If you don’t regularly brush and floss, bacteria start to build up a “biofilm” on your gums and tongue and in the pockets between your teeth.
After you’ve noshed on a QT taquito, these bacteria start feasting on the food particles that remain in your mouth. Just like you, after the biofilm eats, gas is created that needs to be expelled, and so the bacteria “fart,” so to speak, and your mouth consequently smells like the inside of a Dutch oven (and not the kind that produces delicious peach cobbler).
Bacteria build-up is the most common cause of bad breath, but it’s also the easiest to fix. It just takes some consistent oral hygiene. We’ll share a bad breath-destroying regimen below.
Dehydration. Saliva is nature’s mouthwash. It has antibacterial agents that kill those farting bacteria, and it also washes your teeth and mouth clear of the microorganisms and the debris they feed on.
But if you’re dehydrated, your body can’t produce enough of this natural mouthwash, leading to a build-up of gaseous bacteria in your mouth. A dry mouth isn’t only caused by not drinking enough fluids, however. Your mouth can dry out from doing a lot of talking/lecturing, smoking, and mouth breathing as well.
Certain foods. While all foods create sulfuric, smelly gases in your mouth, some are worse offenders than others:
Onions and garlic. Any food that smells like body odor is pretty naturally going to give you breath that smells the same. Both onions and garlic contain compounds that raise the amount of sulfuric gases in your mouth, and are also absorbed into your bloodstream and then expelled when you exhale. So if you’ve got a date or will be talking to people in close quarters, skip the onion burger and garlic confit.
Sugar. The sweet stuff is like Miracle Grow for bacteria in your mouth. It’s easy for bacteria to break down and provides the fuel it needs to grow and spread. You don’t have to give up sugar completely, but take it easy on sugary foods like sodas, cookies, and ice cream.
Coffee. While a cup of joe can help get you going in the morning, it can also leave you with stinky “coffee breath” — an aromatic combination of coffee and butt.
There are a couple reasons coffee can leave your saucebox smelling so malodorous and stale. First, coffee has sulfur compounds in it, which, as we know, stink. Second, the caffeine in coffee dehydrates your mouth, creating a friendly environment for the growth of bacteria. Like sugar, you don’t need to avoid coffee altogether, but take it easy.
Alcohol. Spirits also dehydrate the mouth, allowing bacteria to grow. Again, just something to keep in mind when you’re out having drinks on a date and looking to go for that first kiss.