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Bad Breath? Here’s Good News

If you've noticed that mints and mouthwash seem less effective as you’ve gotten older, these tips are for you.

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The last time you strapped on a face mask, you might have noticed your breath smelled off. Or maybe the grandbaby scrunched up her nose when you went in for a kiss. That fancy mouthwash you bought doesn’t seem to be working, and breath mints barely camouflage the odor. You try to brush and floss regularly, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. What gives?

Bad breath, or halitosis, has many causes, and some can make it worse as we age. Regular brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist are still important for prevention, but there are other factors, including what we put in our bodies and our overall health. That unpleasant odor might be a clue or an early warning sign of a deeper health issue, says the American Dental Association (ADA).

Certain probiotics may help keep your breath fresh, according to a recent study published in the journal BMJ Open. Probiotics are made of good live bacteria and/or yeast that may reduce the bad bacteria that cause halitosis.

Before halitosis starts to affect your self-esteem and your relationships, be aware of lesser-known causes of foul-smelling breath and what you can do to clear the air.

Eat more probiotics. Bacteria that feed on food particles left in our mouths after a meal contribute to bad breath, says the ADA. But certain probiotics may help keep your breath fresh, according to a recent study published in the journal BMJ Open. Probiotics are made of good live bacteria and/or yeast that may reduce the bad bacteria that cause halitosis.

Probiotics have other benefits as well, according to the Cleveland Clinic, including helping your body digest food, creating vitamins and keeping disease-causing bacteria from making you sick. To get more probiotics in your diet, add these items to your grocery cart: yogurt, sourdough bread, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh and some fermented cheeses like cottage cheese.

Drink up. We produce less saliva as we age, which leaves more bad-breath-causing bacteria in our mouths. Medications to manage chronic health conditions can also cause dry mouth. These include drugs that treat depression and high blood pressure, antihistamines, decongestants, and pain medications. To minimize this cause of halitosis, drink more fluids and talk to your doctor about how the side effects of drugs can be minimized.

Visit the dentist. Bad breath may be an early warning sign of two forms of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: gingivitis, which causes bleeding gums, and periodontal disease, or inflammation of the gums and bone supporting the teeth. With either condition, the bacteria that break down food particles and cause foul smells in the mouth are more abundant. See your dentist to manage these problems with deep cleanings and other treatments.

Address aging issues. Age-related health problems like arthritis and memory loss can prevent us from taking good care of our dental hygiene. Food particles and the bacteria they spawn can cause bad breath if dentures are not cleaned well. Talk to your doctor about coping with these issues sooner rather than later.

Get a checkup. Bad breath can be caused by a range of medical conditions, from sinus problems to gastric reflux, says the ADA. Fruity-smelling breath could be a sign of diabetes. If halitosis is not solved by basic oral hygiene, see your doctor for help identifying an underlying cause. It may reveal a hidden problem or a need to better manage your health.

Consider supplements. While there is not a lot of scientific evidence to support the use of supplements to treat or prevent bad breath, they may be worth a try. Zinc is one mineral that might be effective and has other benefits like boosting immunity. But too much zinc can impede your body’s absorption of iron and copper, so it’s best to talk with your health professional before taking zinc supplements.