We’ve all had a case (or two) of stinky breath—and there are plenty of possible reasons for it, from what you eat to the meds you take. But you shouldn’t just reach for any ol’ bottle of mouthwash to mask the issue. A lot of them are chock full of alcohol, which can actually cause bad breath.
Alcohol dries out your mouth and decreases your saliva flow—which allows for bacteria and bad breath to flourish, says Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., associate professor of NYU School of Dentistry.
So, what should you do to freshen up? Try one of these nine natural solutions for curbing a case of dragon breath.
1. Brush and Floss Your Teeth on the Regular
Yeah, we know you’ve heard this a hundred times. That’s because it’s important. Simply committing to this habit could have a major impact on your breath. “When you think about the health of the mouth, gingivitis—which is inflammation—is directly related to halitosis [a.k.a. bad breath],” says Levine. “The same bacteria that cause inflammation in the mouth produce the sulfur compound that causes bad breath.”
To stop plaque buildup and stinky breath, make sure you brush for two minutes twice a day—and floss once a day. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums and gently moving your brush back and forth using short strokes.
“Electric toothbrushes are helpful because they do a better job of removing plaque,” says Levine. Flossing helps nix plaque in hard-to-reach places, like between teeth and in the back of your mouth.
2. Drink More Agua
You know how we told you that a lack of saliva could create the perfect environment for bad bacteria to hang out? Upping your intake of H20 can also help take care of that. Water stimulates saliva production, so even if you think you’re drinking enough water, drink some more, says Levine.
There’s even an International Journal of Dental Hygiene study to prove that a glass of water in the morning can reduce bad breath—so keep a glass on your nightstand!
3. Hop on the Oil-Pulling Trend
Swap out your old alcohol-drenched mouthwash for an ingredient that’s probably already in your pantry: coconut oil. Swish one to two tablespoons of coconut oil in your mouth for about 15 minutes when you wake up, says Rebeccca Lee, R.N., a New York City-based nurse and creator of Remedies for Me. Just don’t swallow! When you’re done, spit the oil into the garbage, rinse your mouth with warm water, and brush your chompers as usual. Lee suggests doing this morning ritual—called ‘oil pulling’—two or three times a week.
Here’s how it works: “Coconut oil contains lauric acid and produces monolaurin [a fatty acid] when digested,” says Lee. Both lauric acid and monolaurin fight against harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungus, she explains. Coconut oil, FTW.
4. Munch on Crunchy Fruits and Veggies
Eating acidic foods—such as beef, cheese, and eggs—lowers the pH level of your mouth, which makes it easier for bacteria to thrive. And that can lead to some seriously rank odor. Levine says the best diet for your breath is one that includes lots of fruits and veggies, which have a higher pH and can keep your mouth balanced.
But it goes beyond that. Consider raw fruits and vegetables—like celery and cucumbers—nature’s toothbrush, says Lee. Their crunchy, fibrous nature helps to physically clean your teeth surfaces when you chew, she says.
5. Sweeten Up with Cinnamon
Have a sweet tooth? The essential oils in cinnamon can help give your breath a boost.
“The spice contains a component called aldehyde, which is great at keeping noxious bacteria at bay,” Lee says.
Research presented at the International Association for Dental Research found that the cinnamon gum worked way better at killing bacteria in the mouth than non-flavored gum, axing 40 percent of the types of bacteria related to bad breath. So the next time you buy a pack of gum, go for one naturally flavored with cinnamon.
6. Chew on Herbs
Nix artificially-flavored breath mints: Chomping on herbs like thyme or peppermint may have some positive effects on your breath. “Chewing on herbs stimulates bacteria-fighting saliva,” says Lee. Not to mention, these aromatic, flavorful plans also contain chlorophyll, which is a natural deodorizer, she says.
7. Suck on Fennel Seeds
Yet another ingredient that can put bad breath in its place? Fennel seeds! The phenolic compounds found in these seeds (and many other plants) help to fight bacteria and the bad breath that follows, says Lee. Plus, it also contains a compound called anethole, which relaxes the stomach, helping to prevent gas and odors that come from down under, too.
8. Take a Shot of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a super-popular natural go-to for many reasons, bad breath relief being one of them. Halitosis is sometimes caused by GI issues like lactose intolerance or heartburn and ACV can support digestion, says Lee. Plus, the acetic acid that forms in the vinegar through the fermentation process—which gives apple cider vinegar its unique smell and taste—is another bacteria fighter, she says. Down a teaspoon or two of straight-up ACV once a day—or mix it into a mug of tea or glass of sparkling water.
9. Clean Your Tongue
That white coating you sometimes see on your tongue is actually the build-up of bad bacteria, says Levine. And as you’re now well aware, bacteria wreak havoc on your breath. Luckily, you can get rid of it pretty easily with a tongue scraper. Start at the back of your tongue and pull the tool forward, recommends the ADA. Then brush your teeth as usual!