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Bad breath is a struggle for more people than you might think.

Having good breath can help you make a good impression for a first date, job interview, or work presentation. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 people struggle with bad breath on a daily basis. If you’re one of these people, you’re likely painfully aware of how self-conscious it can make you and how it may harm other people’s first impressions of you. Bad breath has a wide range of causes, but this means that there are also a wide range of methods you can use to try to improve your breath. Here are the most common causes of bad breath and what you can do to improve your breath and reclaim your self-confidence.

Poor Oral Hygiene

A poor oral hygiene routine is the most common cause of bad breath out there. When you eat, food particles get trapped in between your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on these particles, forming a film of plaque on the surface of your teeth and tongue. As it breaks down, the food in your mouth and the bacteria that feed off of it both produce foul-smelling odors that affect the smell of your breath. If you have dentures, clear aligners, or retainers, not cleaning them well enough can also contribute to your bad breath.

You can easily solve this by instilling a good oral hygiene routine. You should floss and use mouthwash at least once a day, brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time, and visit your dentist for preventive cleanings every six months. If you have dentures, clear aligners, or retainers, carefully and thoroughly clean them once a day. If you’re still struggling with bad breath, you can try an antibacterial toothpaste and mouthwash or consider brushing your teeth after each meal. There could also be another factor contributing to your bad breath.

Cavities and Gum Disease

Sticking to a great oral hygiene routine will help prevent any additional issues from cropping up, but if you have untreated cavities or gum disease, your bad breath will likely return not long after you brush your teeth. This is because the bacteria are persisting in your cavities or underneath your gumline.

In order to remedy this and prevent it from happening in the future, you should visit your dentist every six months for a preventive cleaning. They will be able to remove hardened tartar that you simply can’t clean from your teeth at home, spot problem areas you should clean a little better, and diagnose cavities or gum disease before major treatments are needed. If untreated cavities or gum disease are the cause of your bad breath, getting your cavities filled, receiving restorative treatments for major decay, or undergoing periodontal treatments for gum disease should improve your breath.

Dry Mouth

Saliva is your mouth’s natural defense against cavities; it flushes food debris from your mouth, neutralizes acids in your mouth, and works to fight and kill cavity-causing germs. This keeps your teeth healthier and helps to limit bad breath. When your mouth is too dry, saliva can’t perform these essential functions, and your breath begins to smell as a result. There are many reasons you might have a dry mouth, including diseases like Sjögren’s syndrome, salivary gland problems, and side effects from medication.

Thankfully, there are a few methods you can try to solve your dry mouth. You should drink a lot of water to keep your mouth wet, but you can also try chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candy. This will aid in salivary production without increasing your risk of cavities, and if you choose mint-flavored gum or candy, it will improve your breath in the short term. There are also mouthwashes that are designed to help alleviate the symptoms of a dry mouth, so you can always give one of those a try, as well.

Tobacco Use

Any kind of tobacco use will have a number of negative effects on your oral health, including making your breath smell bad. Tobacco use also increases your risk of developing gum disease, which can also give you bad breath. Since tobacco produces such a strong and distinct odor on your breath, it’s nearly impossible to cover up; the best way to make your breath smell better is to drop the habit. Nowadays, there are plenty of resources available to help you wean yourself off of tobacco. If you’re struggling, you can always ask your dentist or primary care physician about tips for quitting.

Diet

Certain foods, like garlic and onions, can result in bad breath for an extended period of time. This is because these foods are quickly broken down during the digestive process, which releases smelly sulfur-based compounds into the air in your mouth. One of these compounds even hangs around in your body for a few days, continuing to make your breath—and sweat—stink! Brushing your teeth thoroughly will help for only a short period of time, as these compounds continue to be produced until your body is done digesting the offending food.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid these foods altogether, but be mindful of what you’re eating if you have an important date or interview the next day. If you’re avoiding every smelly food you can think of but you’re still having a problem, try writing down everything you eat and making notes on the days you end up with smelly breath. You or your dentist might be able to pinpoint the culprit more easily that way.

Seek a professional’s opinion.

If you’re struggling with bad breath, don’t be afraid to bring it up to your dentist during your next appointment. They may be able to help you figure out what’s causing your bad breath and put you on the path toward improving it with recommendations on how to improve your oral hygiene routine, what foods you may need to avoid, or what products might work best for you.

While bad breath is a common problem, you don’t have to resign yourself to struggling with it on a daily basis. With a little work, you can improve your breath and go to your next social gathering—or catch that special someone under the mistletoe—with confidence!