When Tom Bailey began suffering from bad breath at age 15, everybody let him know. "Girls would tell me my breath stank," says Bailey, who lives in Northern California.
"I tried every bad breath remedy I could find -- mouthwashes, sprays, gingivitis chewing gum ... I even had my tonsils removed. I felt helpless."
Decades passed before Bailey found the help he needed. Then he walked into the California Breath Center, one of a dozen facilities that have sprouted up recently to fight dragon breath. Along with dentists who treat halitosis, they're bringing new hope to the estimated 25 million Americans who suffer from this socially toxic malady.
The clinic's co-founder, dentist Harold Katz, had Bailey breathe into a tube connected to a device called a halimeter, a breath-measuring machine that dentists began using about four years ago. His readout was sky high. As Bailey learned, most bad-breath problems occur when your mouth harbors a surplus of anaerobic bacteria, which emit smelly sulfur compounds.
"The bacteria feast on protein found in plaque, food debris and dead cells," says Katz. Some people are plagued with an extra dose of this bacteria, which can hide in the mouth even if you brush regularly. And trying to banish this bacterial smell with regular mouthwashes can be like using a squirt gun to put out a forest fire.
Fortunately, the oral health hygiene program that could change your life is fairly simple. In addition to brushing and flossing, Bailey now rinses with chlorine dioxide, an antimicrobial agent, and scrapes his tongue every day. Products including TheraBreath, RetarDex and Oxyfresh contain chlorine dioxide in a stabilized form, which experts say becomes active in the mouth. Another -- ProFresh, introduced in 1993 by periodontist Jon L. Richter, DMD, PhD--significantly reduced mouth odors for about 30 hours in the company's tests.
Tongue scraping is another important weapon for attacking the enemy where it lives. "We like to think of the tongue as being ground zero," says Richter. "Anaerobic bacteria tend to gather in colonies, especially at the back of the tongue. That's where they need to be eliminated."
Bailey was told to gently scrape his tongue twice each day, paying particular attention to the back third. Dentists have found that doing this with an appliance available in any drugstore is much more effective than brushing alone. In fact, researchers at the University of Toronto Halitosis Clinic found that it slashed sulfur compounds by 75 percent, while brushing reduced them by just 25 percent.
"When it comes to treating bad breath causes, most people don't bother with their tongues," says dentist Julian Geller. "I tell patients to watch for a thick, white coating on their tongues, and to reach far back with the scraper."
Parsley capsules, mouthwashes, sprays and mints add up to a hefty half-billion dollars in annual U.S. sales, but guys with serious breath problems will find them a short-term solution at best. For them, a proper hygiene program is well worth the extra effort and expense. "People even switch careers because of bad breath," says Richter. Many, like Bailey, had given up hope until these new treatments surfaced. "I can finally get close to people," Bailey says. "I call myself 'the new man' now. That's what the confidence has done for me."