I don’t think I’ve ever seen or smelled a rotten egg. Maybe I’m unique in this, but I and just about everyone else knows exactly what rotten eggs smell like. The pungent sulfur and yuck can be overpowering. Sulfur sources vary from geysers, like in Yellowstone, to bacteria. In our mouths bacteria produce sulfur compounds that are the source of bad breath.

A smell is really just your nose identifying particles in the air. In this case particles that contain sulfur produced by bacteria that live in our mouth. The bacteria eat the food left in our mouth after a meal breaking it down and causing the smell.

Our body has natural defenses against these bacteria. Your saliva is the first part of our immune system killing many bacteria before they have a chance to get into our body. Many medication reduce our saliva flow. We also produce less saliva as we age. Drinking enough water helps your body make as much saliva at it is able.

Other bacteria can out compete these sulfur produces. The bacteria in your mouth that like sugar cause cavities. However, they don’t produce sulfur so if you eat a lot of sugar they can out compete the bad smelling bacteria and improve your breath. Sucking on Altoids or other sugary mints will improve your breath, but isn’t a good long term strategy. You’ll likely end up with tooth decay and still have bad breath.

Mouth rinse has been tested and is only effective against bad breath for about 30 minutes. The rinse just washes away the sulfur compounds. Then it takes about 30 minutes for the bacteria to produce more.

The best defense against bad breath is brushing, flossing, and supporting our bodies natural ability to produce saliva. The dental hygienist can help by professionally cleaning your teeth. After a cleaning many people notice that their teeth feel clean for days or weeks. This is because the hygienist smoothed the surface of the teeth making it harder for bacteria to stick to your teeth.