Beating bad breath and gum disease

If you notice people tend to step back when you speak, or if you often have a “bad taste” in your mouth, its likely that you have bad breath. In most cases, bad breath (or “halitosis”) is caused by odour-causing bacteria in the mouth. Impacted food, dry mouth, a coating on the tongue or throat infections may all increase bacteria and contribute to bad breath. Periodontal disease, where pockets form in the gums next to the teeth, may also cause bad breath if the pockets become infected. In a small percentage of cases, bad breath may be due to more serious illnesses, such as peptic ulcer, lung infection, liver or kidney disease, cancer or diabetes.

There are a number of natural strategies to help combat bad breath, and they are best used alongside improving basic oral hygiene such as more frequent teeth brushing and flossing.

Plant protection

Essential oils of peppermint, thyme and eucalyptus have proven particularly effective in quickly reducing bacteria in the mouth and improving breath odour. Placing one or two drops of peppermint oil on the tongue a few times per day is a successful and widely used strategy. Natural plant oils are also commonly used in oral hygiene products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes. Tea tree oil is another highly effective antibacterial remedy that may help improve bad breath. However, avoid swallowing tea tree oil; place a few drops in warm water and gargle with it instead. Chlorophyll has long been recognized as a breath deodorizer. Liquid chlorophyll may be swished around the mouth and swallowed, or chew spirulina tablets, which are a rich source of cholorphyll.

Guard against gum disease

Gingivitis, one type of periodontal disease, is an inflammation of the gums, most often caused by bacteria. It is a common cause of bad breath and can lead to loss of teeth in advanced stages. Research shows that people who are low in vitamin C and coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) are at a higher risk for gingivitis. In one study, people with periodontal disease who were deficient in vitamin C improved significantly in only 6 weeks after supplementation. Another study on patients with gingivitis showed improvements after taking 50 mg of CoQ10 daily for three weeks. Both vitamin C and CoQ10 are potent antioxidants which are thought to help protect gums against cell damage and speed healing. Other nutrients shown to protect against periodontal disease include vitamins A and E, zinc, selenium, folic acid and bioflavonoids.

If you suffer from chronic or severe bad breath or gum disease, consider seeing a health professional to determine possible causes.

Sources: Encyc of Nat Medicine by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999; “Halitosis” at www.healthwell.com (Healthnotes)