things we don't talk about

The Best Bad-Breath Remedies, According to Dentists

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

While we may all be curious about the best plunger or probiotic tampon or cold-sore remedy, it can be difficult to discuss these more personal items. That’s why we’re tackling Things We Don’t Talk About, a series in which we track down the best hygiene-, sex-, and bodily function–related things we all need but might be too embarrassed to ask about. In this installment, we consult experts on the best treatments for bad breath.

There is morning breath and then there’s bad breath — that persistent, noxious smell even mouthwash can’t kill. Most of us want to avoid both. “Socially and in the workplace, bad breath is a really bad thing, like body odor,” says halitosis expert Steven Fox, D.D.S., of Fox Fresh Breath Dental. And while eating garlic or anchovies would be an obvious culprit, “80 percent of bad breath usually comes from the dental environment (like gingivitis or bad dental hygiene), and 20 percent from things like indigestion, tonsils, or sinuses,” says Scott Froum, a periodontist who often treats cases of bad breath. At the root of bad breath is the build up of bad bacteria, which “naturally live in your mouth,” according to Dr. Ben El Chami, the co-founder and chief dental officer at dntl bar. “The bacteria feed on the leftover food material in your mouth and cause a foul smell as a byproduct.”

Extreme cases of halitosis, the medical term for chronic bad breath, afflict about a quarter of the population. If no amount of mints, mouthwash, or toothpaste have helped you so far, something is likely causing the bacteria to produce the scent — and that kind of bad breath needs to be investigated by the dentist. For run-of-the-mill bad breath that plagues most people, though, periodontist Mike Breault says that good oral hygiene — brushing and flossing, plus regular cleanings with your dentist — is most important. To find more immediate, specific treatments, we asked the experts for their best over-the-counter recommendations.

Tooth and tongue brushes

All the experts we spoke to recommend regular trips to the dentist and properly cleaning your teeth at home as the best way to beat bad breath. According to Dr. Sharon Huang, the founder of Les Belles NYC, a holistic dentistry practice in Manhattan, “mechanical removal is the most effective route of removing bacteria. [That means] flossing daily and brushing twice a day, not just the teeth but also the gum area and the tongue.” Her favorite manual toothbrush is this supersoft one from Nimbus. “It’s actually the most gentle toothbrush I’ve ever used,” Dr. Huang says. “ A common misconception is that you want to brush your teeth really hard to remove the debris, but that is actually not the case. You want to use a really soft bristle to gently remove the bacteria without stripping the enamel.”