Bad Breath: Why You’ve Got It & How to Get Rid of It

open mouthHear “bad breath” and chances are you can instantly think of a person or two with this problem – maybe even yourself.

It’s a common issue, after all. One new review of the science in Clinical Oral Investigations found that it afflicted more than 30% of participants – nearly one in three people. What’s more, those numbers seem to be on the rise.

Our results demonstrated that the estimated prevalence of halitosis was 31.8%, with high heterogeneity between studies. The results suggest a worldwide trend towards a rise in halitosis prevalence.

Why so much halitosis (the clinical term for bad breath)? It’s not just from eating stinky foods such as garlic, onions, and strong spices. In fact, most cases spring from oral conditions.

Although halitosis has multifactorial origins, the source of 90% cases is [issues in the] oral cavity such as poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, tongue coat, food impaction, unclean dentures, faulty restorations, oral carcinomas, and throat infections.

The mouth provides ideal conditions for the growth of harmful bacteria. It’s dark, moist, and contains hard-to-reach, low-oxygen areas such as periodontal pockets in which these pathogens can thrive.

There are hundreds of bacterial species that live in even the cleanest mouth. Many are helpful. Some are harmful. And according to the paper quoted above,

most of them are capable to produce odorous compounds which can cause halitosis.

The answer, of course, starts with better hygiene: brushing (including your tongue), flossing, rinsing, and thoroughly cleaning any appliances or prosthetics you wear.

Essential oils such as cinnamon and lemongrass can be quite helpful in controlling oral bacteria, yeasts, and other pathogens (“bad bugs”). Such oils can be found in many natural mouthwashes, but you can also make your own at home quickly and easily.

That said, there are some cases in which bad breath is a sign of more significant issues that should be addressed by a dentist or physician. These include oral infections, respiratory problems, GI disease, metabolic conditions, and more.

If ramped up hygiene isn’t enough to help your breath, do talk with your healthcare providers.

More tips for taming bad breath

Image by Allsha Vargas

What’s All This about Activated Charcoal?

charcoalOf course, oil pulling is just one of a number of natural at-home health practices that more and more folks have been talking about. Another you may be hearing more about these days is activated charcoal. Claims about it range from instant teeth whitening to a good digestive cleanse.

But what do we know about it really?

We’re Not Talking Briquettes

When you hear “charcoal,” your thoughts probably turn to the stuff you might fuel your barbecue grill with. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen. This makes it more porous, which makes it more absorbent.

This is why it’s been a go-to treatment for overdose or poisoning. It absorbs toxins so they can’t be absorbed into the stomach.

A classic and frequently cited early demonstration with charcoal was the ingestion of a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal by Tovery before the 1831 French Academy of Medicine. Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. Similarly, the American physician Hort, by administering oral charcoal, reportedly saved the life of a patient in 1834 who ingested mercury bichloride.

When used for acute poisoning, activated charcoal is given in extremely large doses. But in small doses, it can be used as a supplement.

Activated charcoal comes in a powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. The powder is typically mixed with water for topical applications on teeth or as a face mask. The liquid and pill forms are typically ingested in small doses (along with large amounts of water) to help with digestion or to remove harmful toxins like mold from the body (yep, mold – in the body).

What’s Charcoal Good For?

A literature review in the Natural Medicine Journal found good or still unclear scientific evidence for activated charcoal’s use in treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. The author also mentions a range of other uses of the supplement based on tradition, hypotheses, or limited research. These include

Aging, asthma, blood disorders, blood purifier, bronchial asthma, deodorant, disease diagnosis, inflammatory skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, ulcerative colitis.

But it has its uses in dentistry, as well. For instance, mercury-safe dentists may give patients charcoal before and after removing a patient’s amalgam fillings to protect against any mercury that may accidentally be swallowed during the procedures. (Others use chlorella, a single-celled micro-algae that’s also effective for detox.)

It’s also something that some of our patients may be recommended as part of their formal detox regimen, as it binds heavy metals so well.

activated charcoal supplementIncreasingly, we also see people using it at home for teeth whitening – as has been done throughout history. In addition to removing stains, it may also improve oral pH and help keep oral flora in balance (supporting the helpful bacteria, fighting the harmful). Because of this, it’s also said to help tame bad breath, as well.

That said, if you have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, using charcoal can stain such restorations terribly. If you have any, cleaning with charcoal is not for you.

And if you’re thinking about taking activated charcoal as a supplement? Do consult a qualified integrative or naturopathic practitioner before you begin – particularly if you are taking other supplements or medications (including homeopathic ones), or if you are currently being treated for any health conditions. Even supplements can have bad interactions or may trigger troubling side effects.

How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

Probiotic Support for Your Mouth’s Very Own Rebel Alliance

If you were to stand in front of a mirror and look deep inside your mouth, you might see some interesting things. But what you wouldn’t see are the 800 or so different types of bacteria that call your mouth home.

wide open mouthIn fact, it’s the most diverse microbial population in your body. Yep, your mouth has more kinds of bacteria than your gut! Why? Your mouth is dark and moist, has a variety of surface textures, and is constantly fed with nutrients.

In other words, it’s the perfect breeding ground.

If you’re icked out by that, thinking all microbes are the “bad guys,” think again. In our attempt to search and destroy all bacteria on our bodies, in our bodies, and in our homes, we’ve virtually ignored how beneficial so many microbes really are. Like the Rebel Alliance, they stand vigilant in an attempt to keep us healthy. And while most microbiome studies currently focus on gut flora, we might do well to remember, the mouth is actually the start of our gastrointestinal tract.

By way of digestion, your mouth is connected to your gut. That’s one reason why maintaining a diverse population of helpful bacteria in your mouth helps maintain whole body health. Research on the relationship between chronic inflammatory diseases and gum disease already proves this.

Helpful and harmful bacteria are always in relationship with each other. Like any relationship – nothing personal here – coexisting isn’t always easy. And as part of a complex ecosystem, your beneficial oral flora must not only forge relationships with each other. If they’re to survive and hold down the health fort, they must also establish relationships with your gut, skin, and urogenital tract bacteria, too.

Providing your body with probiotics – living, beneficial microbes – helps those invisible troopers bloom with healthy oral flora. In a balanced relationship with other constituents, they work as a natural defense system in your body.

The most common – and most commonly studied – strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both are considered part of the normal human microbiota. They’re even present in breast milk.

But just because you’ve been weaned doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of these well-studied probiotics and hundreds of others. For one, you can eat foods that contain them. These include

  • Yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kimchi.
  • Fermented pickles.
  • Kombucha.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Miso.
  • Raw cheese.
  • Buttermilk.
  • Fermented cod liver oil.
  • Tempeh.
  • Raw apple cider vinegar.

There are also a variety of supplements available to support a healthy balance of oral flora. A good biological dentist or naturopathic physician can recommend products best suited to your individual needs.

As for the oral health benefits of including probiotics in your diet? Here’s a sample of what the scientific literature has reported:

  • Improved gingival health.
  • Decreased gum bleeding.
  • Decreased inflammatory markers in saliva.
  • Decreased pocket depth in high risk groups such as smokers.
  • Reduced oral candida (yeast) counts in some populations.
  • Reduced counts of cavity-causing bacteria in saliva.
  • Reduced halitosis (bad breath).

How will YOU up your intake of probiotics to help keep both mouth and body at their healthiest?

Image by Pietro Garrone