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Herbal Fresh Mouthwash
1 cup warm water
1 tsp. raw honey
2 drops peppermint essential oil
2 drops spearmint essential oil
1 drop anise essential oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (optional)

one is immune to having halitosis—bad breath—at one time or another, but it becomes a problem when it persists beyond the spicy Italian meal you ate for dinner. Chronic bad breath can indicate gum disease, an allergy, digestive problems, an overly acidic system or low immunity. Most often, however, it is caused by poor oral hygiene leading to the growth of anaerobic bacteria in the soft tissues of the mouth (gums, cheeks, tongue), where dead cells and food debris often reside. When the proteins in these substances decompose they putrefy and form hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan, the notorious culprits of common halitosis.

Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine use breath odor as one diagnostic tool for determining a patient’s health. Conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems and digestive difficulties can cause a change in your breath odor. For example, a uric-acid odor often relates to poorly functioning kidneys while sugary-sweet breath may suggest a pre-diabetic condition.

Holistic Solutions

Ayurvedic practitioners advocate tongue-brushing to help remove toxins and metabolic waste in the mouth, especially after sleep, when many toxins are eliminated. This involves the twice-daily routine of using a flat stainless-steel or plastic instrument to scrape the paste-like coating from the back and top of the tongue. The tongue can also be brushed gently with a toothbrush to remove the bacteria-laden plaque. If you are fasting or on a detoxification program, you may notice more of this material on your tongue, along with offensive odor.

Peppermint is commonly used as a digestive aid and breath freshener. It is not coincidental that many oral-care products, including mouthwash, breath sprays, toothpaste, toothpicks, dental floss and after-dinner mints, contain peppermint, or its cousin spearmint. Other herbs known for their digestive and anti-bacterial properties are anise, nutmeg and rosemary.

When it is inconvenient to brush your teeth, simply rinsing your mouth with a natural mouthwash (or even water) is the next-best thing, but make sure to brush diligently at least twice per day and floss once per day. Also, regular dental cleanings will prevent tartar build-up.

I don’t recommend relying on gum and mints for fresh breath. Those containing sugar actually feed bacteria, can lower immunity, and add calories. And those made from sugar substitutes, such as NutraSweet, contain chemicals.

Mix honey and essential oil drops and then add the warm water. Add the lemon juice if desired. Bottle and label. Shake well before each use and swish around your mouth for 30 to 60 seconds. Make weekly or double this recipe and store in the refrigerator.

Diet

There are many safe and popular herbs and spices that have been traditionally used to combat digestive problems and for oral care. In addition to the ones mentioned above, they include basil, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel, ginger and sage. Any combination of these dried herbs can be made into an infusion (tea) for a simple mouth rinse, which you can also use as a replacement for the water in the mouthwash recipe given above; or incorporated into your diet. Also, chlorophyll, chlorella and fresh wheatgrass juice are very effective breath fresheners. Parsley, cilantro and sage freshen breath when chewed. Seeds, such as caraway, dill, fennel and anise, were traditionally chewed in many cultures, and are still provided after Middle Eastern meals, to aid digestion and prevent bad breath.

Herbs—goldenseal, prickly ash bark, turmeric, echinacea, calendula and cinchona bark—help heal oral abrasions and wounds, and kill bacteria in the mucous membranes, which aids oral health. You may find some of these herbs, along with aloe vera, bee propolis, sesame oil and wheat germ oil, in natural mouthwashes and dental products.

Fresh lemon juice helps neutralize acid, which can make the body more susceptible to germs, and is a powerful antibacterial agent. It is optional in the mouthwash recipe, yet can be helpful for people who suffer from a PH imbalance. If you smoke, drink alcohol, eat animal proteins, have several cups of coffee per day or are under considerable stress—all contributors to high acid levels—you will benefit from using lemon juice for oral health.

And remember: It’s wise not to ignore bad breath or shrug it off as simply embarrassing. It could be an early warning sign of an underlying health problem. If these common, natural solutions don’t help ease your halitosis, see your dentist for a thorough checkup.

Valerie Cooksley, R.N., is the author of Healing Home Spa (Prentice Hall Press) and director of the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy in Seattle, Washington

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