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What Causes Bad Breath?
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, about 65 million Americans suffer from halitosis (bad breath) at some point in their lives. From the Ayurvedic perspective, successfully managing it depends on addressing the underlying causes.
Research published recently in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research shows that 87 percent of cases of bad breath are intra-oral, or caused from an issue inside the mouth, while 5 to 8 percent are extra-oral, or caused by imbalances outside the oral cavity.
The consensus is that plaque-forming biofilms cause opportunistic mouth bacteria, which in turn produce malodorous volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath.
Ayurveda and Bad Breath
Ayurveda views the underlying causes of bad breath differently: In Ayurvedic treatment, we assume that almost all cases of bad breath are due to external factors outside of the mouth.
These external factors ultimately cause the environments in our mouths to support certain opportunistic bacteria, irritate our gums, and cause bad breath, but we explore digestive system influences on this process.
See also The Miracle of Mouth Microbes
10 Ways to Beat Bad Breath
In this article I’ll describe the 10 best Ayurvedic solutions for addressing bad breath, and why they work.
NOTE: Bad breath or halitosis may be a symptom of a disease and should always be evaluated first by a medical doctor.
1. Address Udvarta (Upward Moving Digestion)
According to Ayurveda, udvarta is a digestive imbalance in which digestive energy flows up, instead of down. This can cause food to linger in your stomach, leading to heartburn, indigestion, and bad breath.
Delayed stomach emptying, also called gastro paresis, allows fermented gases to vent upward into the esophagus—another potential cause of occasional bad breath.
Studies suggest certain spices and foods, like ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamon, beets, cinnamon, and fenugreek, boost digestive acid in the stomach, as well as the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder. Healthy bile flow is responsible for the typical downward energy of digestion and healthy elimination.
2. Fix Sluggish Elimination (Constipation or Loose Stools)
In Ayurveda, healthy bowel function is a requirement for good health and a component of udvarta. When stress and vata dosha, or the energy of wind, predominate, the lining of the large intestine can dry out, causing occasional constipation.
If left untreated, the intestinal lining can react to the chronic dryness by producing excessive mucus and looser stools. In either case, the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut can be altered, causing gases to vent upward, which we’ve established as a source of bad breath.
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the Ayurvedic herbal formula called triphala—known to support healthy elimination—as well as cardamom, which supports healthy upper digestion, were evaluated in combination for their effect on occasional bad breath.
In this study, 60 volunteers with plaque-related oral hygiene issues and bad breath were given either an over-the-counter mouthwash or triphala and cardamon for 21 days. In the triphala-cardamom group, plaque decreased by 56 percent, gum health improved by 69 percent, and bad breath was reduced by 66 percent (compared to 68 percent, 68 percent, and 72 percent, respectively, in the mouthwash group).
3. Reduce Ama
Ama is the Ayurvedic word for digestive toxic material or foods that were incompletely digested. The classic Ayurvedic measure of digestive ama is waking up with a coated tongue.
The thicker the coating, which is typically a whitish color, the more digestive ama you may be carrying.
In a 2013 study that evaluated the correlation between bad breath and tongue coating among 268 dental students, there was a positive correlation.
In a 2019 study, tongue coating bacteria was positively correlated with bad breath and a greater quantity of malodorous volatile sulfur compounds.
To reduce ama, try an Ayurvedic ama reducing diet.
For bad breath, try these simple strategies:
- Sip hot water every 15 minutes for 2 weeks.
- Eat a kapha-reducing diet for 1 month.
- Consider a LifeSpa Ayurvedic cleanse: The 4-Day Short Home Cleanse or the 14-Day Ayurveda Colorado Cleanse
4. Get Enough Zinc
Zinc deficiencies are very common around the world. In a 2017 study, more than one quarter of the world’s population was deficient in zinc.
In one study, 10 volunteers who complained of bad breath sucked on zinc lozenges. Three hours later, researchers saw significant reductions in volatile sulfur compounds.
The most effective sources of zinc in the lozenges were zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, and zinc chelate. Other studies show that zinc toothpaste also lowers levels of volatile sulfur compounds.
Increasing your consumption of high-zinc foods may also lower the levels of volatile sulfur compounds. According to research, the highest food sources of zinc are oysters (78.6 mg/serving) and pumpkin seeds (10mg/serving). Other foods that are good sources of zinc are black rice, black sesame, beef, crab, cashews, beans, sunflower seeds, and rye (all above 5mg/serving).
I recommend zinc supplementation as a part of a total mineral supplement, like LifeSpa’s Essential Minerals. Each serving delivers 15mg of absorbable zinc.
5. Take Deep Breaths
Studies have linked poor diaphragmatic function to symptoms of heartburn and udvarta. When digestive forces move in an upward direction, the stomach and its contents put pressure on the diaphragm. This is not only linked to bouts of indigestion, but it is also associated with bad breath.
In numerous studies, breathing techniques that strengthen the diaphragm have been found to reverse gastro esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and symptoms of indigestion.
In Ayurveda, a pranayama breathing technique called pratiloma is an effective technique to enhance diaphragmatic function. Learn how!
6. Breathe Through Your Nose When You Sleep
Snoring or sleeping with your mouth open is one of the most common reasons for the proliferation of opportunistic bad bacteria that are responsible for bad breath.
Training yourself to sleep with your mouth closed is an effective way to ward off unwanted bacteria.
In ancient Ayurvedic practices, babies were trained to be nose breathers at night. Mouth breathing at night dries out the mouth, creating an environment that bad bacteria love. Taping your mouth at night is simple. Learn how, along with all the evidence-based benefits, here.
7. Practice Oil Pulling
One of the classic Ayurvedic daily practices is called gandoosha, or oil pulling. This technique has been shown in numerous studies to support good oral health and lower levels of volatile sulfur compounds and bad breath.
This technique involves swishing a combination of sesame oil, coconut oil, turmeric, and peppermint in your mouth for 10 minutes after brushing and flossing. You should practice the oil pulling part just once a day, not each time you brush and floss.
See also The Science of Oil Pulling
8. Use a Copper Tongue Scraper
According to Ayurveda, scraping the tongue, called jihwa prakshalana, should be one of the first activities you do every day. Studies have shown that tongue scrapping can reduce undesirable mouth bacteria, reduce volatile sulfur compounds linked to bad breath, improve the taste sensation of food, and change the environment of the mouth to support overall oral health.
The best metal to use to scrape your tongue is copper, since it is the only antibacterial metal. Copper not only seems to be toxic to bad bacteria, it also provides important enzymes that are needed for the healthy microbes in your mouth to survive.
9. Stay Hydrated
Perhaps the most common cause of bad breath is not drinking enough water.
Studies have confirmed that poor hydration is linked to the alteration of mouth mucosa and the increased production of volatile sulfur compounds.
Starting the day with drinking a large glass of warm water (optionally with lemon) after tongue scraping prevents udvarta and kickstarts digestion in the downward direction.
A good hydration goal is to drink one half your ideal weight in ounces of water each day. Other beverages count, but water is the ideal hydrator.
See also Rehydrate the Right Way
10. Use a Morning Mouth Hygiene Rinse
For troublesome bad breath, try these antimicrobial mouth rinses each morning:
- Salt Water Rinse – Add ½ tsp of Himalaya salt to 8 oz of warm water. Gargle, swish, and spit each morning.
- Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse – Add 2 tsp of apple cider vinegar to 8 oz of water. Gargle, swish, and spit each morning.
- Tea Tree Rinse – Add 5 drops of tea tree oil to 8 oz of warm water. Gargle, swish, and spit each morning.
NOTE: Be aware of Keto breath! When carbohydrates are restricted, the body will kick into fat metabolism. Much of the fat is expelled via the lungs in the form of acetone, which causes another form of bad breath. The fix: add back some carbs!
Okay, now that you have a whole suite of tools for fighting bad breath, you can bring back some confidence to close encounters!