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Researchers say the bacteria found in fermented foods can help with bad breath. jamie grill atlas/Stocksy
  • Some types of bacteria in your mouth can lead to persistent bad breath.
  • Scientists suggest that probiotics may combat these undesirable bacteria.
  • Probiotics can be found in fermented foods or in some supplements.

You awaken in your bed. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the taste in your mouth is… just awful.

Who among us has never had a case of “morning breath,” “coffee breath,” or “garlic breath?” They’re at least common enough that we’re all familiar with these phrases.

Bad breath, also called halitosis, affects half of adults at one time or another, according to the American Dental Association.

In an effort to combat this common condition, scientists reviewed whether probiotics might be a useful halitosis treatment.

They published their findings in the journal BMJ Open.

It’s important to note that this publication was a meta-analysis, meaning the authors reviewed existing studies.

The researchers originally identified 130 studies to examine but ultimately winnowed the pool down to just 7 studies.

“The whole idea behind probiotics is if we have a group of bacteria in the environment that we don’t like if we introduce bacteria that we do like and can supplant the ‘bad guys’ with the ‘good guys,’ then we’ll end up with a better result,” Dr. Matt Messina, a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association and assistant professor at the college of dentistry at The Ohio State University, told Healthline.

Foods containing probiotic bacteria include yogurt and sourdough bread. There are also probiotic supplements on the market, although the benefits of swallowing a capsule might differ from when chewing probiotic foods.

“[The research] is very thought-provoking. The value is that it pulls a lot of studies together to show where the gaps in the research are. And the gap here we really need to go after is causality,” Messina added.

While some people with halitosis did experience short-term improvements, it’s not clear that probiotics were necessarily the reason.

“The bottom line is probiotic use certainly doesn’t hurt, but the jury’s still out on the overall benefit of this,” Messina said.

Dr. Thomas M. Holland, MS, a study clinician and medical advisor for the RUSH Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago, told Healthline that “although not conclusive, the results indicate that what we eat does in fact matter with regards to gut and oral health.”

Before changing up your eating habits, it should first be noted the results didn’t indicate that probiotics permanently solved halitosis.

“The data shows that there’s some potential short-term benefit to probiotics, but it doesn’t really hold up long-term,” said Messina.

Holland added that “having a more diverse microbiome may allow the body to digest a wider variety of foods and thus stave off halitosis.”

“It is important to consume a diet that helps propagate a diverse quantity and quality of various gut bacteria to help maintain not only gut and oral health but overall well-being too,” Holland noted.

Experts say that maintaining a balanced diet, such as the one recommended by the American Heart Association, can add some healthy variety to your meals.

Regarding how you get probiotics into your body to begin with, Holland said, “the broad recommendation would still be to ingest the foodstuffs first. If you aren’t going to intake the food items, supplements are a great option.”

Probiotics might have some benefit to treating halitosis, but it doesn’t appear they should be solely relied upon.

For mild cases, chewing gum or breath fresheners can be inconspicuous and convenient to carry around, but they’re not for everyone.

“If someone has dentures or implants, some gums can become quite strong and dislodge the implant,” said Holland.

These products might also contain sugars, which could actually make things worse.

“Bacteria burn the sugars and the byproducts are acids, which increase the rate of decay and sometimes increase the proliferation of more bacteria,” said Messina.

If you’re not able to treat your halitosis at home, the next step is to consult with a medical professional.

“Halitosis can cause anxiety and embarrassment, and potentially isolation, if severe enough. If someone is concerned about bad breath, ideally they should start with their primary care physician or dentist,” Holland suggested.

Bad breath could also be a sign of other health issues.

“It can be caused by plaque or bacteria on the teeth, periodontal disease, dental cavities, decay in the teeth, but also [gastrointestinal] related issues, reflux, even diseases like lung cancer can give a certain bad smell in the mouth,” said Messina.

“The first thing is don’t ignore chronic cases of bad breath, it could be telling you something. And the second thing is, it’s treatable. See your dentist, we can help you. Most of the time, the assessment will begin with your dentist, and that’s a good place to start,” added Messina.