Bad breath – the tried and true sign of poor oral hygiene and the subject of hundreds of commercials meant to sell quick and easy fixes. But what actually causes our breath to smell bad, and is there a quick fix beyond brushing and flossing regularly? (Hint: No!) 

When you eat or drink, some of that food or drink is likely to stick in between or on your teeth, eventually causing plaque to form and becoming an ideal source for bacteria to feed and grow. It’s this bacteria that’s the actual cause of bad breath. Of course, different foods and drinks can influence the way our breath smells in different ways as well. We’re all familiar with garlic breath or coffee breath after all. The best way to neutralize these odors and prevent them from lingering is to brush and floss soon after eating, ideally within half an hour after eating. 

Of course, that’s not always necessarily possible in the middle of a workday, but there are a few quick things you can do to help. A quick rinse with mouthwash can wash some of the food particles sticking on the surface of your teeth off, as well as kill some of the bacteria growing in your mouth and leave a minty fresh scent in its place. Things like mints or gum can help, but it should be noted these are temporary solutions at best. They work by covering the smell of your breath with the smell of mint, but it only ever covers the smell, it doesn’t neutralize or eliminate it, nor does it address the underlying problem of food particles being stuck in your teeth. 

In rare cases, persistent bad breath despite regular brushing or flossing can be a sign that there is a deeper problem going on. Chronic acid reflux, metabolic disorders like diabetes or trimethylaminuria (TMA), and even some cancers can all be a cause of chronic bad breath. If you find that bad breath persists after making lifestyle changes regarding oral hygiene and diet, you may want to check with your doctor. 

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