Don’t be a foul mouth – prevention of bad breath – includes related article on exercise protocols

R. Daniel Foster

The latest treatments can banish bad breath forever. Sweet!

When Tom Bailey began suffering from bad breath at age 15, everybody let him know. “Girls would tell me my breath stank,” says Bailey, who lives in Northern California. “I tried everything – mouthwashes, sprays, chewing gum…. I even had my tonsils removed. I’m an outspoken guy, and I was driving people away. I felt helpless, and at one point I gave up because nothing worked. I even started drinking because I felt so bad about myself.”

Decades passed before Bailey found the help he needed. Then he walked into the California Breath Center, one of a dozen facilities that have sprouted up in past five years to deal with the worst cases of dragon breath. Along with dentists whose practices now include treating halitosis, they’re bringing new hope to the estimated 25 million Americans who suffer from this socially toxic malady.

The clinic’s co-founder, dentist Harold Katz, had Bailey breathe into a tube connected to a shoebox-size device called a halimeter, a breath-measuring machine that dentists began using about four years ago. His readout registered 169, which lies somewhere between an old dog and a dead skunk. Katz says he’s had patients top the 1,800 mark, causing a fiery blast Godzilla would envy.

As Bailey learned, most bad-breath problems occur when your mouth harbors a surplus of anaerobic bacteria, which emit smelly sulfur compounds. “The bacteria feast on protein found in plaque, food debris and dead cells,” says Katz. Some people are plagued with an extra dose of this bacteria, which can hide in the mouth even if you brush regularly. Bacteria commonly lurk in pockets in the gums, which is why some experts recommend gum surgery for chronic halitosis.

Trying to banish this bacterial smell with regular mouthwashes can be like using a squirt gun to put out a forest fire. While they may contain germ-killing ingredients, they can’t penetrate all the hidden places where bacteria and plaque get together and party. That’s why a 1992 Consumer Reports test of 15 brands found that mouthwashes masked odor for only 10 minutes to an hour. Breath mints and sprays were even more limited in their effectiveness.

Some people think they can avoid the aftereffects of a garlicky meal by swallowing “internal” breath fresheners such as BreathAsure, but many dentists are skeptical. BreathAsure’s active ingredient is an old folk remedy: parsley-seed oil. Though chewing parsley can leave your mouth feeling fresh, the odor of garlic actually gets into your lungs and your bloodstream. Then it comes out in your sweat as well as your breath. (In fact, the best way to deal with eating garlic may be to make sure your partner eats it as well.)

New solutions

The oral hygiene program that changed Bailey’s life is actually fairly simple. In addition to brushing and flossing, he now rinses with chlorine dioxide and scrapes his tongue every day. Chlorine dioxide, an antimicrobial agent that has been used for decades to control odor in water-treatment systems, is now recognized as a potent weapon against bad breath. While regular mouthwashes kill some germs, chlorine dioxide reportedly goes further, destroying the proteins these bacteria use to create sulfur compounds.

Most of these products, including TheraBreath, RetarDex and Oxyfresh, contain chlorine dioxide in a stabilized form, which experts say becomes active in the mouth. One of them – ProFresh, introduced in 1993 by periodontist Jon L. Richter, DMD, PhD – significantly reduced mouth odors for about 30 hours in the company’s tests.

Tongue scraping is another important weapon for attacking the enemy where it lives. “We like to think of the tongue as being ground zero,” says Richter, founder of a Philadelphia-based center for the treatment of breath disorders. “Anaerobic bacteria tend to gather in colonies, especially at the back of the tongue. That’s where they need to be eliminated.” While the tongue may appear smooth, Richter explains that it is etched with a network of miniature Grand Canyons, grooves and fissures in which bacteria hunker down and flourish.

Bailey was told to gently scrape his tongue twice each day, paying particular attention to the back third. Dentists have found that doing this with an appliance available in any drugstore is much more effective at reducing bad breath than brushing alone. In fact, researchers at the University of Toronto Halitosis Clinic found that it slashed sulfur compounds by 75 percent, while brushing reduced them by just 25 percent.

Middle Eastern cultures have used tongue scrapers for centuries, and increasing numbers of dentists here are doling them out as part of a complete oral hygiene program. “When it comes to bad breath, most people don’t bother with their tongues,” says dentist Julian Geller, co-founder of the Fresh Breath Clinic in Toronto. “I tell patients to watch for a thick, white coating on their tongues, and to reach far back with the scraper. Brushing the tongue is not as effective because it tends to move the mucus around instead of removing it. And you’re more likely to gag on a brush.”

The sweet smell of success

Parsley capsules, mouthwashes, sprays and mints add up to a hefty half-billion dollars in annual U.S. sales, but guys with serious breath problems will find them a short-term solution at best. For them, learning about and adopting a proper hygiene program is well worth the extra effort and expense. “People even switch careers because of bad breath,” says Richter. One of his clients passed up law school because he was afraid of talking to clients. And Katz recalls a woman who came to him a week before her wedding, saying her fiance refused to go through with the ceremony until the air cleared.

Many, like Bailey, had given up hope until these new treatments surfaced. “I can finally get close to people,” Bailey says. “I call myself ‘the new man’ now. That’s what the confidence has done for me.”

Other foul causes

While bacteria is the most common cause of bad breath, other factors can contribute to the problem. One of these is temporary dry mouth caused by nonstop talking, which can occur in such professions as teaching, sales, and politics. Saliva normally irrigates the mouth, flushing out sulfur compounds. Intense or prolonged exercise can also dry the mouth, as can alcohol, colds, stress, and antihistamine or antidepressant drugs.

Your breath can also turn sour in between meals and when dieting, producing “hunger breath.” (Going on an ultra-low-carbohydrate meal plan can do this, too, because the byproducts of fat-burning in the absence of carbs can change your body’s pH balance.) Drinking water, along with a balanced diet that includes fruits, celery and other foods with high water content can often clear up this problem.

In rare cases, bad breath can signal a medical problem, such as liver disease, so you should have chronic halitosis checked out by your physician as well as your dentist.

Health Extra

CLEAN THAT CUP: When University of Arizona researchers tested coffee mugs in a dozen offices, they found that 40 percent harbored bacteria ranging from common coliforms to potentially dangerous E. coil. They recommend cleaning cups in a dishwasher or using hot, soapy water, then disinfecting with a bleach-and-water solution or cleaning disinfectant.

VEG OUT: Rather than eating less to keep from gaining weight, try eating more of something – vegetables. American Cancer Society scientists found that people who ate at least 19 servings of vegetables a week were significantly less likely to gain weight around the waist than those who ate relatively little produce.

PROTECTING YOUR SPERM: According to research presented to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, men often overlook personal factors that can cause reproductive problems. Among the activities cited as possible fertility dampeners: smoking tobacco or marijuana, consuming more than four alcoholic beverages or two cups of coffee per day, hot baths, rapid weight loss or gain, and taking hormone supplements such as testosterone, DHEA or anabolic steroids.

ASK A DENTIST: The Academy of General Dentistry will answer your questions via a toll-free hotline July 9 and 10 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST; call 800-764-5333. You can also query the academy anytime at

COPYRIGHT 1998 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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