Bad breath is a common issue, and there are many different causes. Potential remedies include water, green tea, and herbal rinses.
Persistent bad breath, or halitosis, is usually due to bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria produce gases that can cause a smell. The odor occurs when the bacteria break down sugars and starches in the foods people eat.
Sometimes, halitosis may signal something more serious, such as gum disease or tooth decay. It is important that people go for regular dental checkups so that a dentist can treat these issues early.
Halitosis could also signal an underlying health issue elsewhere in the body.
This article outlines eight natural home remedies for bad breath. We also provide tips on when to see a doctor.
Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands inside the mouth do not produce enough saliva to rinse food debris from the mouth. This helps to control levels of oral bacteria.
Many different factors can cause dry mouth. The most common cause is dehydration. Medications and diet can also influence the moisture in the mouth.
There are no strict recommendations for daily water intake. However, the United States Food and Nutrition Board suggest 2.7 liters (l) per day for females and 3.7 l per day for males. These amounts include water from foods and beverages.
Green tea is an antioxidant-rich tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.
The most abundant antioxidant in green tea is Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Research suggests EGCG may have many beneficial effects on health.
A 2013 laboratory study investigated the effect of EGCG on human gum tissues. The study showed that EGCG triggers cells in the gums to release an antimicrobial chemical. This chemical targets Porphyromonas gingivalis (P.gingivalis), which is a type of bacteria that contributes to gum disease and halitosis.
Another type of bacteria that contributes to halitosis is Solobacterium moorei (S. moorei). A 2015 laboratory study investigated the effect of green tea extract and EGCG on S. moorei cultures.
Both green tea extract and EGCG reduced the growth of S. moorei cultures, although green tea extract showed the greatest effects. This suggests that other chemicals within green tea may also have antibacterial properties.
Both treatments also reduced the ability of S. moorei to produce chemicals that cause halitosis.
Further research is necessary to determine whether the results of these laboratory based studies apply to the human oral environment.
Dental plaque and gum inflammation, or gingivitis, are common causes of halitosis.
A 2014 study investigated the effects of an herbal mouth rinse on plaque, gingivitis, and levels of oral bacteria. The rinse contained tea tree oil, cloves, and basil, each having antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Researchers divided the 40 participants into two groups. Over 21 days, one group used a commercial mouth rinse, while the other used the herbal rinse.
Participants who used either rinse showed significant reductions in plaque and gingivitis. However, the herbal rinse also significantly reduced levels of bacteria in the mouth, whereas the commercial rinse did not.
These findings suggest that a mouth rinse containing tea tree oil, clove, and basil, may help to improve oral health, so reducing halitosis.
Certain bacteria inside the mouth excrete chemicals called volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). These chemicals quickly turn into the gases that are responsible for bad breath.
A 2016 study suggests that tea tree oil may be effective at reducing levels of bacteria that produce VSCs.
For this study, the researchers isolated bacterial cultures of P. gingivalis and Porphyromonas endodontalis, in the laboratory. They then treated the cultures with either tea tree oil or chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is a standard antimicrobial that is common in mouthwash.
The effects of tea tree oil were similar to those of chlorhexidine. Each reduced the growth of both bacterial strains and cut VCS production.
The results of this laboratory study are promising. However, future studies will need to test the effects of tea tree oil in the human oral environment.
It is worth noting that tea tree oil produces fewer side effects than chlorhexidine. Some people may prefer to try tea tree oil as a natural alternative.
To make a tea tree oil rinse, dilute a drop of tea tree oil in a few drops of vegetable oil and put this into a cup of warm water. Swish the solution in the mouth for 30 seconds, and then spit out until you have used the entire cup of water. Avoid swallowing tea tree oil as it can be toxic if a person ingests it.
Cinnamon oil showed powerful antibacterial effects against S. moorei. It also reduced levels of the VCS hydrogen sulfide.
The researchers also found that cinnamon oil did not cause damage to human gum cells.
They concluded that adding cinnamon oil to oral hygiene products might help to control halitosis. However, further studies involving human participants are necessary to support this claim.
People should not put cinnamon essential oil near the skin without diluting it in a carrier oil first. Cinnamon is available as a food grade oil and essential oil. People must not swallow any essential oils.
Some spices contain aromatic essential oils. These may help to mask breath odor after eating garlic and other pungent foods.
To freshen the breath after meals, people can try making a palate cleansing tea. To make the tea, add one or more of the following spices to hot water, and allow to steep for a few minutes:
- fennel seeds
- star anise
- grated ginger
People can also try adding one of the following strong smelling herbs:
Many of these herbs and spices also contain antimicrobial agents that target bacterial causes of bad breath.
Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for health.
Eating foods that coat the mouth in probiotics could help to reduce levels of bad bacteria in the mouth. This may help improve breath.
All yogurt contains probiotics since these bacteria are necessary for turning milk into yogurt. However, probiotic yogurt has higher levels of these beneficial bacteria.
A 2017 study compared the effects of probiotic yogurt and xylitol chewing gum on the amount of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) bacteria in saliva. S. mutans significantly contributes to tooth decay and halitosis.
The study involved 50 participants whose saliva showed high levels of S. mutans.
Researchers divided the participants into two groups. One group ate 200 grams of probiotic yogurt per day while the other group chewed two xylitol chewing gums three times per day after meals.
Participants in both groups showed a reduction in S. mutans from the first day of the experiment. These reductions were highest during the second week of treatment. There was no significant difference between the two groups.
Eating probiotic yogurt may, therefore, be as effective in preventing tooth decay and treating halitosis as chewing xylitol gum.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink similar to probiotic yogurt, but with even more probiotic bacteria.
A 2018 study investigated the effects of different types of probiotic treatment on levels of bacteria in the mouth. The 6-week study involved 45 participants.
Researchers divided the participants into three groups:
- Kefir group: Participants drank 100 milliliters of kefir twice a day.
- Probiotic toothpaste (PT) group: Participants used a probiotic toothpaste twice a day.
- Control group: Participants received no treatment.
The kefir group and the PT group showed a significant decrease in S. mutans bacteria and Lactobacillus bacteria when the researchers compared them with the control group.
These results suggest drinking kefir may help to reduce levels of certain harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Halitosis can be a sign of tooth decay, gum disease, a side effect of a medication, or a problem elsewhere in the body.
Some conditions that may cause halitosis include:
- sinus infections
- chronic lung infections
- digestive issues
- kidney diseases
- liver diseases
People should see a doctor if their breath does not improve despite trying some of the potential remedies this article outlines.
Some individuals may experience halitosis due to an oral health issue. They should see a dentist if the following symptoms accompany their halitosis:
- painful, swollen, or bleeding gums
- loose teeth
- problems with dentures
The above symptoms can be signs of gum disease. This condition is reversible if a person treats it in its early stages. Without treatment, gum disease may lead to tooth loss.
Bad breath is a common complaint, and there are many different causes. Most cases are due to the presence of too many harmful bacteria in the mouth.
There are various natural home remedies people can try to alleviate bad breath. Most of these remedies have scientific research to back them, although some require further investigation.
Persistent halitosis may sometimes be a sign of gum disease or tooth decay. People should see a dentist if they feel that these conditions could be causing their halitosis.
Less commonly, halitosis may indicate a more serious underlying health issue. People who have concerns about the cause of their halitosis should see a doctor.
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- Lombardo Bedran, T. B., et al. (2014). Green tea extract and its major constituent, epigallocatechin‐3‐gallate, induce epithelial beta‐defensin secretion and prevent beta‐defensin degradation by Porphyromonas gingivalis [Abstract].
- Morin, M.-P., et al. (2015). Green tea extract and its major constituent epigallocatechin-3-gallate inhibit growth and halitosis-related properties of Solobacterium moorei.
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