Who can resist the lure of a Valentine’s Day kiss? With the year’s most romantic holiday only hours away, plans have already begun in preparation for Cupid’s favorite day. Reservations have already been booked at the finest restaurants and after a little wine, a little champagne and a succulent meal, the mood is just screaming for a romantic ending to the night. But your Valentine’s date’s breath could be screaming for something else.

While bad breath is often discussed openly as a joke, it’s actually a serious reality for many people. According to gitractinfo.com, 14 percent to 25 percent of Americans and 35 percent to 45 percent of the world’s population suffer from chronic bad breath, also known as halitosis.

It’s rare to find someone who actually enjoys talking to a person who has bad breath and few things can be more hurtful or embarrassing than being told your breath could use a little freshening. So precautions are often exercised in the forms of breath fresheners. In fact, Americans spend close to $10 billion each year for chewing gum, mints and other oral hygiene products designed to eliminate bad breath.

But according to oral care expert Dr. Harold Katz, that $10 billion is just money is being wasted. Understanding is the key to any form of treatment, but because most people and doctors are typically unaware of how to treat chronic bad breath, traditional methods are often prescribed and generally don’t work. It’s been reported that in over 80 percent of halitosis cases, the cause of bad breath is actually not the result of poor oral hygiene.

“Most bad breath is caused by bacteria that live in the back of your tongue, throat and tonsils,” said Dr. Katz, author of {The Bad Breath Bible.} “These bacteria produce volatile sulfur compounds like hydrogen sulfide, cadaverine and putrescine. These chemicals are produced when the mouth is very dry or when certain foods interact with the bacteria.”
Some of the most common forms of bad breath prevention are mouth wash and chewing gum, but rather than preventing the problem, these methods only make the situation worse. Most mouth washes contain alcohol, which actually makes your mouth dry and directly leads to bad breath. Most chewing gums contain sugar which only feeds the bacteria that causes bad breath. Couple those with your average Valentine’s Day dinner which may consist of any type of dairy products, onion, garlic and alcohol − all breath no-no’s − and it could make for a very unpleasant situation if you’re leaning in for that home run kiss.

Saliva naturally prevents bad breath because it contains oxygen, a natural enemy of the sulfur-producing bacteria that lurks in the mouth. Keeping the mouth moist is the real key to preventing bad breath so drinking plenty of water, eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugar are all proper ways to tame the problem.

When eating dairy products or even onions and garlic are unavoidable, a swift breath test is often followed. While the classic self-examination involves blowing into your hands and smelling, that inspection is only good if you want to smell the palms of your hands. The best test is to lick the back of your wrist and wait for the saliva to dry, then smell your wrist.

“The reason that works better is because the sulfur compound that the bacteria produces mixes with your saliva so once the liquid evaporates, the sulfur will stick to your hand,” Dr. Katz said. “But also if you take a look at your tongue in front of well lit mirror, if your tongue is pink and shiny, that’s good, that means you have a lot of saliva and you’re protecting yourself against bad breath. But if your tongue looks white or has a yellowish coating, that’s bad.”

Sugar-free gum or any kind of gum or mints that contain zinc can provide some relief. And since the cause of bad breath can go deeper than just a spicy meal, other health problems can be directly traced to one’s mouth.

“In some very rare cases, bad breath has been linked to liver disease, kidney disease even lung disease,” Dr. Katz said. “The No. 1 link between bad breath is people who have gum disease. The bacteria that cause bad breath are essentially cousins of the ones that cause gum disease. Once people have an overabundance of the bad breath bacteria the next step is bleeding gums and once your gums start to bleed, you can get loose teeth and you start to actually lose your teeth. People lose more teeth to gum disease than they do to tooth decay.”

Bad breath, missing teeth and bleeding gums can make for a grisly sight. But instead of pointing the finger and joking, ensure others and even yourself a happy Valentine’s Day and beyond by educating rather than humiliating.

“We’re not out to make fun of people,” Dr. Katz added. “We’re out to inform people of what bad breath is all about.”

For more information visit Dr. Katz’ Web site, www.therabreath.com.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO