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Mask wearing during the pandemic has made us all intimately familiar with the state of our own breath. If you’ve noticed that yours is less than fresh, the cause could be as simple as dehydration — or as complex as a microbial imbalance in the mouth or gut.

To improve your breath, functional dentist Mary Ellen Chalmers, DMD, recommends more frequent brushing and flossing. If that doesn’t help, she looks for signs of enlarged tonsils, where small stones can form and attract odor-causing bacteria. Infections in the maxillary teeth (those in the upper jaw) can also affect the sinuses and lead to postnasal drip, which can cause bad breath.

Mouth breathing is another common cause of bad breath, notes family and sleep-medicine dentist Mark Burhenne, DDS. Saliva helps keep bad bacteria in check, and breathing through the mouth instead of the nose dries out the oral cavity, setting the stage for halitosis. A 2011 Brazilian study found a correlation between mouth breathing and strong odors in children’s breath.

The basics of good breath also include a whole-foods diet. Limit processed and refined carbohydrates, and emphasize fermented, probiotic foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as prebiotic staples like garlic, onions, asparagus, and leeks (see “16 Prebiotic Foods to Eat Now“). Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, integrative and functional-medicine researcher and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome, also recommends supplementing with chewable probiotics.

Tongue scraping is another useful intervention. “Some studies estimate that 80 to 95 percent of bad breath comes from the buildup of food, bacteria, fungi, and dead cells at the back of the tongue,” says Burhenne.

If the problem persists, the cul­prit may be lurking deeper in the GI ­tract, with yeast or bacterial overgrowth. In that case, working with a functional-medicine provider can help you find and address the root cause. (For more on yeast overgrowth, see “How to Treat Candida Overgrowth“.)

This was excerpted from “What Your Mouth Is Trying to Tell You” which was published in Experience Life magazine.

Mo Perry

Mo Perry is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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  1. Bad breath is caused by bacteria that produce an odor that thrives in your mouth. If you don’t brush or floss frequently, bacteria build up on food particles left in your mouth and within your mouth. The sulfur compounds produced by these bacteria cause your breath to smell.

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