News & Press
John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry
Can Mouthwashes Cure Bad Breath?
It is not unusual for some people occasionally to suffer from, or suspect that they have, bad breath. Mouthwashes, when combined with thorough teeth brushing, flossing and tongue cleaning, can sometimes effectively relieve or mask this symptom. However persistent bad breath may stem from causes that require more careful attention.
Bad breath stems from bacterial byproducts containing sulfur compounds. Many dentist recommend mouthwashes containing chlorine dioxide. This compound not only lessens the bacterial count through its oxidizing properties, but also neutralizes volatile sulfur compounds that are the direct cause of bad breath.
Another ingredient considered effective in reducing volatile sulfur compounds is zinc ions. These ions binds with chemicals that bacteria need to produce volatile sulfur compounds.
Antiseptic type mouthwashes are commonly available. They are effective in reducing bacterial growth in the mouth and masking malodors. However they lack the ingredients that would neutralize volatile sulfur compounds. Furthermore some antiseptic mouthwashes contain inordinate amount of alcohol, sometimes exceeding 25%. Alcohol is a desiccant (drying agent), and may dry out the mouth. Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is associated with dental caries and gum disease.
Sugar-free breath mints, chewing gum, lozenges, etc., are effective in masking bad breath and stimulating the flow of saliva. Increase flow of saliva, especially in patients who suffer from xerostomis (dry mouth), can be helpful in reducing risk of dental caries and gum disease. When these products are combined with chlorine dioxide, sodium chlorite or zinc, they may also be effective in reducing volatile sulfur compounds, and lessen malodor.
When using a mouthwash, gargle. This action allows the mouthwash to come in contact with the heavy extensive of bacterial growth typically found on the posterior third of the tongue. Make the "aahh" sound when you gargle, and hold it for as long as you can comfortably do so.
If you do not find relief with these measures, contact your dentist or physician as soon as possible. Frequently malodor is associated with periodontitis (gum disease) that is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. See your physician to rule out medical ailments such as gastric reflux, sinusitis and post-nasal. Consult your dentist if medical causes have been eliminated. There are a variety of treatment programs that can help make you breath pleasant and your smile attractive.