Nina Radcliff

Let's take a moment to perform an experiment that could help us make friends, meet that special someone, or even save a relationship. But, before starting, make sure no one is looking.

Lick the inside of your wrist, wait 60 seconds, and then sniff it. Sulphur salts that are responsible for bad breath will be transferred from our tongue to our skin. While unconventional, it can solve the mystery of why everyone always stands far away, offers us breath mints or makes statements such as "I'm bored. Let's go brush your teeth."

When it comes to halitosis, the medical term for bad breath, knowing is half the battle.

Here's what you need to know about exiling halitosis:

Our mouths are breeding grounds for germs. Dental plaque describes the colorless, sticky film of bacteria that forms on our teeth. If it is not brushed away, it can cause gingivitis (irritation of our gums) and can advance into periodontitis (plaque-filled pockets between our teeth and gums). Our tongues are like a shaggy sticky carpet that holds onto and traps bacteria that produce odors.

You are what you eat (and smoke). Food particles can linger and stagnate in and around our teeth, gums and tongue, causing halitosis.

Additionally, foods are absorbed into our bloodstreams and carried to our lungs, where their odor can be emitted with our breath. That's why foods with strong odors (onions, garlic, certain spices) can result in "dragon breath" until they have passed through our bodies. And let's not forget that tobacco products not only cause bad breath but can irritate the gums.

Halitosis may be a warning sign of a health condition. Bad breath may indicate an oral yeast infection, sinus infection, cavity, acid reflux, postnasal drip, pneumonia, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, a foreign body in young kids (e.g., small toy or piece of food) or certain cancers or metabolic diseases.

Dry mouth, or xerostomia. Our saliva moistens and cleanses our mouths by neutralizing acids produced by plaque. It also washes away dead cells that would otherwise accumulate and decompose on the tongue, gums and cheeks. Not drinking enough water, certain medications, salivary gland problems and mouth breathing may cause dry mouth.

Tips and tricks to fight off halitosis:

1. Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth and tongue (in particular the back of it) twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Consider brushing after eating. This may mean carrying a toothbrush or keeping one at school or work to use after lunch. Replace the toothbrush every two to three months. Use floss once a day to remove food particles and plaque between teeth. If wearing dentures, remove them at night and clean thoroughly before putting them back in the next morning.

2. Avoid dry mouth. Drink plenty of water to not only flush down food particles and bacteria but also to produce enough saliva. Also, sugarless chewing gum or sucking on candy can stimulate the production of saliva.

3. Avoid certain foods. Sticky, sugary foods and beverages, as well as onions, garlic and certain spices, can exacerbate bad breath. So can tobacco products. Yes, add bad breath to the lengthy list of reasons to quit smoking.

4. Gargle with peroxide. The oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide kills mouth bacteria that can cause bad breath.

5. Be quiet, my tummy. Antacids and other over-the-counter acid reducers can calm bellies.

6. Low-fat yogurt. Yogurt does a "switcheroo" by replacing bad bacteria with good bacteria in the gut and, hence, mouth.

7. Celery can remove stinky bacteria, and eating parsley between meals can help. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

In most cases, these self-care tips can put a halt to halitosis. But if not, see a dentist. Dentists will perform a thorough teeth cleaning as well as an oral exam to detect and treat periodontal disease, cavities, dry mouth or other problems that may be causing bad breath.

So the next time we are bored, we can lean in to tell secrets or for kisses.

Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at