It's normal to be self-conscious after munching on a garlic bagel. But for the more than 40 million people with halitosis, bad breath is a chronic, not an occasional, issue, says Richard Price, D.M.D., a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
The culprits for all-day morning breath are usually bacteria that live in the back of the mouth and produce sulfuric compounds. Because these bacteria breed in cavities and bleeding gums, even those in the earliest stages of gum disease and tooth decay are at a greater risk.
Another common trigger: sinusitis and postnasal drip. Bacteria in your mouth feed on the proteins found in mucus, making everything in your mouth reek. If your breath smells sour and your mouth is dry, however, take a look at the over-the-counter and prescription drugs you're taking. Some, like allergy medications and insulin, can alter your body chemistry or inhibit the production of saliva. A rotten-fruit odor, on the other hand, is a sure sign of a buildup of ketones, a by-product of fat digestion, which plagues diabetics and those following high-protein diets.
Bad breath fixes
First, cut back on odor-causing food like garlic and onions. Then adjust your dental routine: Brush and floss twice daily, and use a tongue scraper in the morning and before bed. "Like a squeegee, this device gets rid of mucus in the back of the mouth, where the smell-generating bacteria congregate," says Price. Drinking plenty of water can also help wash away the water-soluble halitosis bacteria.
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Just as important: twice-yearly visits to your dentist. She can examine your mouth and, if necessary, irrigate it with an antimicrobial rinse or prescribe an extra-strong mouthwash. If your dentist can't pinpoint the underlying cause of your bad breath, consult your doctor to make sure you don't have a more serious issue like a chronic sinus problem. She may need to swap your medication or prescribe a treatment for dry mouth or sinusitis.