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How to Get Rid of Bad Breath

Q. Despite brushing and flossing, I still have bad breath. How can I get rid of it?

A. Most chronic cases of bad breath, or halitosis, result from the buildup of bacteria that live in your mouth— mostly on your teeth and gums and on the rear of your tongue. Both dry mouth and chronic respiratory problems reduce saliva, making it harder to rid your mouth of bacteria.

Postnasal drip can also create a breeding ground for bacteria or, if you still have your tonsils, lead to tonsil stones. (You may notice these yellowish stones in the back of your throat or cough them up.)

In rare cases, untreated liver disorders can produce sulfurous breath, and kidney disease can cause breath to smell like ammonia. Helicobacter pylori infection also can cause halitosis.

Judith Jones, D.D.S., professor of dentistry at Boston University and spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, says chewing sugarless gum, using artificial saliva, and simply drinking more water can help dry mouth.

In addition to brushing and flossing every day, an antiseptic mouthwash can help eliminate odor-causing bacteria, but make sure that you use a rinse without alcohol or sugar—both can actually be food for the bacteria you’re trying to kill. Tongue scraping is sometimes recommended, and devices are sold for this purpose, but there is no strong evidence that this works. You should, though, give your tongue a brush when you brush your teeth.

"Healthy teeth and gums are necessary but sometimes insufficient to insure fresh breath,” she says. “If you clean your teeth, gums and tongue and floss every day and still have bad breath, see your dentist for a checkup."

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