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By the editors of Prevention

Is your breath smelling more funky than fresh? Chances are, you’ve got a plethora of odor-producing bacteria having a field day in your mouth -- particularly on the back of your tongue -- which is the most common cause of bad breath. The good news: A bit of self-help will usually do the trick, says Richard H. Price, DMD, a professor at Boston University Dental School.

“Hey, Do I Smell?”

This might be a bit awkward, but here’s the thing: It's hard to tell whether your own breath is nasty or nice. See where we’re going with this? So, yes, it’s best to ask a pal for an honest appraisal, says Dr. Price. If it's nasty, ask if it's just a passing thing or a chronic problem.

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If It’s A Passing Thing

Certain foods, smoking and alcohol can cause temporary bad breath (garlic bread, anyone?). If it's a once-in-a-while thing, brush or floss, sip a glass of water, suck a sugar-free mint or chew a stick of sugarless gum, says Mahvash Navazesh, DMD, chairman of oral medicine and oral diagnosis at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry.

Houston, We Have A (Chronic) Problem

Launch an offensive against your mouth’s smelly bacteria by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily, brushing or scraping your tongue morning and night and keeping your regular dental cleanings. Also drink plenty of water -- a moist mouth is a less smelly mouth; saliva helps wash away the food debris bacteria love.

About Your Diet...

Speaking of dry mouth, your everyday faves might not be doing you any favors. Coffee and alcohol both dry your mouth, and fatty foods and dairy products can change the acidity in your mouth so that it favors an overgrowth of bacteria. Another culprit? Certain drugs -- antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, high blood pressure meds and pain relievers -- can inhibit saliva flow. Ask your doc about meds that aren’t as drying.

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If Nothing’s Working

Ask your dentist if your bad breath is coming from your mouth or your nose (if it's the latter, you may have a sinus or respiratory problem). Also have her check for fractured teeth and fillings, which can trap food, and cavities and gum disease. In more serious cases, bad breath can be a symptom of respiratory infection, acid reflux, diabetes or kidney failure.


Prevention is the nation's leading healthy lifestyle brand, with a U.S. magazine audience of 10.2 million readers, and a top digital destination that has 6.6 million unique visitors each month. Prevention's Twitter handle is @PreventionMag. Prevention magazine and its apps are available on the iPhone and iPad.

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