Is persistent bad breath a simple case of oral hygiene, or are there food-related factors at play? Nutritional advisor Elit Rowland considers what dietary changes can promote healthy teeth and gums, and fresher breath.
Everyone has suffered bad breath, also known as halitosis, after eating certain meals. But short-term or transient halitosis, caused by eating strong smelling foods such as curries, onions, garlic and spice-rich meals is only short-lived. The cause of longer-term or persistent bad breath can have deeper diet-related roots that go beyond what happens in the mouth.
Good gut health If the eyes are the window to your soul, then the mouth can be the window to your gut and bad breath can be the first indicator that things aren’t quite right on the inside.
Poor digestion, constipation and bowl disorders can cause internal gas and some nutritionists believe this can release unpleasant odours into the mouth. A healthy gut can prevent digestive disorders and help to metabolise the nutrients needed to promote healthy teeth and gums.
Probiotic yogurts, drinks and nutritional supplement are a good way to support a healthy gut by topping up good bacteria. Prebiotics stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria so try and include plenty in your diet. Good sources include artichoke, spinach, banana and wholegrain bread.
Balance vitamins and minerals The body needs a good balance of essential vitamins and mineral to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Vitamin C, found in most fresh fruits and vegetables, is rich in antioxidants and has shown to reduce gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, also associated with halitosis. The body cannot store large amounts, so have a little fruit and veg every day. Vitamin D, found in herring, mackerel, eggs and natural sunshine, has also shown to protect against tooth decay. Calcium promotes healthy teeth and can be found in cheese, almonds, pumpkin seeds and cooked dried beans.
Ditch the diets Cutting out carbs may help you lose inches off your waist, but can also leave you with foul breath. When carbs are reduced or removed from the diet, it encourages the body to burn fat. This produces ‘ketones’ which are excreted into the urine and, unfortunately, your breath. High protein diets can also have the same effect: digested protein releases ammonia which, in large amounts, can smell unpleasant.
Drink more water Many people suffer from bad breath first thing in the morning. This is because bacteria can feed on foods stuck between teeth overnight and release a stale odour in the process. A lack of fluids during the day can have the same effect. Regularly drinking water, particularly after a meal, helps to wash away food particles, keeping your mouth feeling fresh and hydrated. Limiting your intake of diuretics such as alcohol, coffee and tea are also important as they can dehydrate the mouth and body.
Limit sugary foods and drinks We all know that sweets rot your teeth, but did you know they can affect your breath? Bacteria in the mouth love to feed on sugar. This can cause plaque and eventually tooth decay, creating very unpleasant odours in the process. Unfortunately, fruits and fruit juices also contain high levels of sugar and harm teeth in the same way. Try to reduce your exposure to sugar by enjoying fruits as part of a main meal, instead of snacking on them between meals.
Obsessed with your breath? Many people suffer from a false belief that they have bad breath, making them feel paranoid and self-conscious in social situations; this is a psychological condition called halitophobia. If you’re worried about your breath it could be all in your mind, not your mouth. For more information on the treatment available, visit: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bad-breath