Bad breath is big business. Each year Americans spend more than $10 billion on oral hygiene products. We want our breath to smell sweet as a baby's. But despite using an array of expensive remedies, some 80 million Americans still suffer from chronic halitosis — bad breath.
Most mouthwashes offer only a temporary respite, and health experts warn they can actually make the problem worse and even harm your overall health.
Typical big-name brands contain alcohol or the chemical chlorhexidine, both of which merely mask unpleasant odors while killing healthy bacteria in your mouth as well as the microbes that cause halitosis. Alcohol-based products also dry out your mouth, which contributes to bad breath.
If that's not enough to make you stop gargling, there's this: "Use of [commercial] mouthwash on a daily basis poses a significant risk factor for developing head and neck cancers," according to findings in the Dental Journal.
And new research, published in the journal Free Radical Biology And Medicine, shows using mouthwash can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes by killing off "good" bacteria that help blood vessels relax, which can increase blood pressure.
"I tell my patients to avoid using mouthwash at all costs," dentist Lynn Griebahn, M.D., of Davenport, Iowa, tells Newsmax Health. "It has harsh chemicals that dry your mouth and kill both the good and bad bacteria in your mouth and gut."
Brand-name mouthwashes can cause a vicious cycle: They leave a pleasant, tingly taste in the mouth for a few minutes, leading a person to believe their breath problem is solved. But over time, the death of good bacteria means that odor-causing microbes multiply with a vengeance, giving people worse breath than ever. This causes them to use more mouthwash, which makes the problem even worse.
"Each person has maybe 100 to 200 bacterial species colonizing their mouth at any given time," says University of California-Los Angeles microbiologist Wenyuan Shi, M.D., an expert in identifying bacteria that causes offensive breath.
Some of these bacteria can cause bad breath, but others are beneficial, keeping harmful microbes in check and aiding digestion. Using mouthwash destroys all oral bacteria, wiping out the natural checks and balances in our system, and paving the way for opportunistic infections such as gum disease to take over, Dr. Shi says.
Mel Rosenberg, M.D., professor emeritus of microbiology at Tel Aviv University tells Newsmax Health that he's developed a unique mouthwash — not yet for sale in the United States — that uses proprietary blends of essential oils and water to sweeten breath.
But it's possible to get a similar benefit by swishing a small of amount of coconut or olive oil in your mouth, says Ellen Kamhi, a medical school professor and author of "The Natural Medicine Chest."
"Pull the oil back and forth through your teeth for three to five minutes," she says. "This helps restore gum health and destroys odor-causing bacteria while preserving good bacteria.”
Factors that cause chronic bad breath include smoking, drinking alcohol, dental cavities, gum disease, and a diet high in sugar, diabetes, kidney and liver disease. Anyone with persistent bad breath should see a doctor to rule out serious health problems.
Routine brushing and flossing can go a long way toward keeping breath clean smelling, says Dr. Griebahn. Probiotic supplements and yogurt can also help promote breath-freshening bacteria, she says.
And if you do eat garlic just before a meet-and-greet, Dr. Griebahn recommends chewing parsley or sucking on a whole clove.
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