Everything You Need to Know About Bad Breath (and Kissing People Who Have It)

Keane Amdahl/Thrillist
Keane Amdahl/Thrillist

Your Tinder meetup is actually going well (for once), but when you lean in to get closer, you’re smacked in the face with a stench that makes you wonder what the hell died in their mouth.

Sure, you may think that bad breath is only "something that happens to other people," but the truth is that halitosis can strike anyone. In fact, Dr. Michael Starr, a member of the American Dental Association, points out that most of us will experience halitosis as a “short, transient condition that can be quickly treated.”

So what is it, and how can you prevent it from killing the mood?


Halitosis, the silent makeout killer

Many people assume that only foods like garlic or onions are to blame for bad breath. While this is partially true (some foods are worse than others), there’s actually more going on in that face hole of yours.

According to Dr. Starr, halitosis can be caused by food, tobacco use, gum disease, dry mouth, or even underlying medical conditions. These can all cause bacteria to be released in the mouth. See, anaerobic bacteria survive and grow where oxygen isn't present; when they break down the food you eat, this special bacteria “degrade[s] the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine into the foul-smelling volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs),” says Dr. Starr.

And, like other noxious gases your body emits, there's a huge variety of possible smells. If you notice a sweet or alcoholic odor wafting from your mouth, for example, Dr. Starr says that could be a red flag that you’re prediabetic. So if your friends are always asking if you’ve been drinking, even though you’ve been sober for hours, it might be time for a check up.


Tackling halitosis head-on

The problem is, most VSCs live and thrive on your tongue, which means if you’re not scraping that bad boy, you could be inviting halitosis to stay a while.

To keep your breath fresh, Dr. Starr and Delta Dental suggest the following:

  • Brush twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Brush or scrape your tongue
  • Use a mouth rinse
  • Visit your dentist
  • Quit smoking
  • Drink more water

You’re doing all of that, right? No? Well, you’re probably the friend with halitosis. Sorry it had to come from me, buddy.

Speaking of breaking the news, what should you do if your partner has stank breath?


How to kiss someone with bad breath

The way I see it, you have two options:

  • Run for the hills, or
  • Fix that shit!

If you really like this person, follow these tips:

Would you like some gum?
Dr. Starr notes that we’re all susceptible to dry mouth just before kissing thanks to those pesky nerves of ours. To combat the problem, pop in a piece of gum. You should also avoid smoking beforehand, as this can exacerbate your cotton mouth.

Doc’s recommendation: The first ingredient listed in your gum should be a sugar alcohol known as xylitol. Don’t reach for brands that list this as the fifth or sixth ingredient since this negligible amount won’t fix things.

Not only will the gum stimulate your mouth to produce more saliva, but xylitol can also keep gum disease at bay since the bacteria lurking between your teeth can’t digest it.

Offer water
One common cause of dry mouth is, unsurprisingly, dehydration. To squash the issue, keep tall glasses of water handy for you and your boo to drink up.

You should also avoid sugary drinks and ease up on the alcohol. Bacteria love the sugar found in sweet drinks. Alcohol’s also a diuretic, meaning it’s only going to make your dry mouth situation worse.

If you’re a smoker, stay away from alcohol rinses, since this combination can actually increase your chances of developing certain cancers (awesome!).

Still have dry mouth? Your dentist can prescribe a strong rinse that gets to the root of the problem instead of masking it, like OTC brands do.

Take the lead
When these subtle hints don’t work, show your partner that you can’t stand your bad breath. Swish an alcohol rinse beforehand (not Jack Daniels, Kesha), or brush your teeth pre-makeout sesh. Whatever you do will make your partner more likely to follow, since s/he won’t want to be the stinky one in the relationship.

To lazy to read all that? Here’s how you kick bad breath: pick up some xylitol gum, drink a bunch of water, and schedule your next dental checkup today. Although going to the dentist isn’t high on the fun list, the world (and your partner) will thank you for not polluting the environment with your foul-smelling sulfur and bacteria.

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Devan Ciccarelli is a writer and marketing specialist who has a piece of gum for you, you might want to take it. Follow her on Twitter: @DevanCiccarelli.