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National Fresh Breath Month: How to test if you have bad breath – and 5 expert tips to make it ‘fresh’

Walking around with bad breath is something that every one of us has probably done at times – and experts agree, it’s a common problem that most people experience at some point in their lives for a variety of reasons.

But there are ways to avoid the embarrassment. To start with, you can check if you are packing a smelly punch with a simple test: lick the inside of your wrist and sniff it. “If it smells bad, you can be fairly sure that you have bad breath and can do something about it!” advises Dirna Grobbelaar, oral hygiene advisor for Ivohealth, and a member of the Oral Hygienists Association of South Africa (OHASA).

A few explanations for bad breath include something you ate, like garlic and onions; a dry mouth (medically known as xerostomia), possibly from medications you are taking; being in ketosis due to your diet; infections in the throat, nose, and sinuses, or lungs; conditions such diabetes, liver and/or kidney problems; smoking; and most commonly, poor oral hygiene and gum disease.

Important to note is that the bacteria that cause bad breath, also irritate the gums, causing bleeding. Once you have bleeding gums, ‘bad’ bacteria can enter your bloodstream and increase your risk of more serious health problems such as dementia, heart disease, strokes, kidney problems, and even pre-term birth. So, avoiding bad breath through good oral hygiene is a vital part of caring for your overall health and wellness.

Beating bad breath by getting into the problem
The first step in overcoming bad breath is to keep your mouth healthy by adopting a good oral hygiene routine. According to Grobbelaar, effective oral care is the key to beating bad breath. If bacteria and food debris are not removed from your mouth, they break down and decay, releasing foul odours in the process.

Dr Stephne Fenwick, a dentist and clinical advisor to Ivohealth, says that many people think that brushing alone is enough to keep their mouths clean. However, even when done correctly for a full two minutes, brushing will only remove about half the plaque on your teeth and gums. So, whilst brushing twice a day is of paramount importance, it is not enough to prevent bad breath. So, what is the solution?

Dr Fenwick advises that, as your toothbrush can’t reach between the teeth, daily interdental cleaning is essential to remove trapped plaque and food debris. According to OHASA, only about a third of South Africans clean in-between their teeth every day, and almost half of them are not doing it correctly.

Thankfully there is a multitude of tools available to make cleaning in between your teeth simple and easy. Flossing is the most common, and there are many different kinds of floss available, such as the GUM expanding floss, or Ortho floss designed to use when you have orthodontic braces. If you don’t like flossing, try GUM Soft-Picks, which are tiny, easy-to-use picks with super-soft rubber bristles.

Another recommended solution for interproximal cleaning is an interdental brush, such as the reusable GUM Bi-Direction with a 90-degree bendable head and antibacterial bristles. Interdental brushes are a great choice if you have gaps between your teeth, or have a bridge, braces or implants. “Food getting stuck in between teeth, under bridges, or in between implants are a major cause of bad breath as this food starts to break down and stink. The GUM Bi-Direction brushes prevent this,” says Dr Fenwick. If you are uncertain which interdental tools are best for you visit

And then don’t forget your tongue. The tongue’s surface has tiny grooves where bacteria and plaque can accumulate – everyone should incorporate tongue cleaning into their daily routine.

Using mouthwash as a final step can give added fresh-breath confidence – try rinsing with salt water or an alcohol-free rinse like Dentyl Dual Action or Sunstar GUM Original White.

5 dental professional-approved fixes to beat bad breath

  1. Brush correctly twice a day for two minutes each time.
  2. Clean between the teeth every day with floss, interdental picks, an interdental brush or an oral irrigator, whichever tool suits you best.
  3. Gently scrape the tongue each day to remove plaque and food debris from its surface.
  4. Rinse with salt water or alcohol-free mouthwash for added confidence
  5. See your oral hygienist for a professional clean, ideally twice a year or more frequently.

For further advice on how to maintain fresh breath and a healthy mouth read this article To check the freshness of your breath do this simple quiz

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