UNITED STATES - In the past few months, many of us have become familiar with the smell of our own breath thanks to attentive mask-wearing — and this hasn’t always yielded positive revelations. Brian Harris, a Phoenix-based dentist and the founder of the oral care brand Klen, said one of the most common questions he has heard from patients since the pandemic started is, “What can be done to improve my breath’s smell?”
Popping mints or chewing gum are obvious answers, but both only cover odors temporarily. One actual solution, Harris said, is to treat the buildup of certain bacteria that can make breath particularly acrid.
To clear up those bacteria, look to basic dental care products with some clever tweaks, as well as some tools you may not know about. You may want to invest in an electric toothbrush, which can remove more plaque than a regular one does. The Burst Sonic Toothbrush ($70), for instance, relies on thousands of tiny sonic vibrations per minute to polish teeth.
For toothpaste, Alan Friedman, a prosthodontist based in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, is partial to Crest’s Pro-Health line (from $3). The different formulas target a range of concerns, from tooth sensitivity to gum health to whitening.
Removing plaque that can build up in the tight spots between teeth is important not only in the quest for fresh breath, but also to prevent gum disease and cavities.
In 2015, Chrystle Cu, a holistic dentist who focuses on oral health as it relates to a person’s overall health, and her sister, Catherine, introduced Cocofloss ($9), which has “a soft, loofah-like weave of hundreds of performance filaments,” or tiny microfiber threads, “that expand to clear away stubborn plaque,” Cu explained.
It comes in scents like summer watermelon, Cara Cara orange and dark chocolate, which Cu hopes makes flossing “feel more like a self-care treat than a daily chore.”
Friedman recommends using a Waterpik Flosser ($50) in tandem with a sonic toothbrush and better floss for a routine as thorough as dental office cleanings.
However, it’s the back of the tongue that has the highest concentration of bacteria and is the most difficult to reach. You can try to scrub with a toothbrush, but, Harris advised, “using a tongue cleanser and the right alcohol-free mouth rinse is going to give you the best results.”
The Pure Palate Tongue Scraper ($10), from the brand UMA, is about the same price as a stainless steel version, but it’s crafted from antimicrobial copper, which inhibits the growth of bacteria. Use it to gently scrape plaque from the tongue that toothbrush bristles might miss or only move around.
As for mouthwashes, look for rinses that do not contain ethyl alcohol, which tends to dry out the mouth and exacerbate bad breath. One option is Tom’s of Maine Whole Care Mouthwash ($7), which contains Xylitol — a naturally occurring sweetener that increases saliva production and reduces some bacteria from forming on teeth — and aloe to soothe.