Probiotic bacteria may mask bad breath, but can’t fix it

Experts say probiotic bacteria may mask halitosis.

Experts say probiotic bacteria may mask halitosis. Photo: Getty

We’ve all suffered from bad breath at some stage. But for many people, it’s a daily struggle and one they grapple with to find a treatment or cure.

Probiotic bacteria found in fermented foods, such as yoghurt, sourdough bread, and miso soup, are the latest remedies being touted as a potential way to dispel the embarrassment of persistent bad breath (halitosis).

But while experts say probiotic bacteria may mask halitosis, they warn that taking them won’t fix the root causes of bad breath.

Causes of bad breath

Experts said halitosis could affect up to 70 per cent of the Australian population.

Several things cause bad breath, including gum disease, tooth decay, poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, smoking and reflux.

Experts told The New Daily that treatment depends on the underlying cause.

“If it is related to gum disease or poor oral hygiene, then these need to be treated,” said dental public health expert and CEO of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch, Professor Matthew Hopcraft.

“If it is related to a badly decayed tooth or an infection related to a tooth, this requires treatment. In these situations, probiotics might mask some symptoms but not actually treat the underlying cause.”

It sounds simple, but brushing your teeth is one of the best ways to treat bad breath, according to senior lecturer in prosthodontics at Griffith University, Professor Khaled Ahmed.

“Just because you’re brushing your teeth doesn’t mean you’re doing it right,” he said.

“Discuss your brushing routine and technique with your oral health provider. Take your brush with you and show them how you do it – you might be in for a surprise.”

According to government-funded health service Health Direct, brushing your teeth thoroughly and regularly can stop build-up of food and bacteria.

“Cleaning your tongue with a tongue scraper or the tongue cleaner on the back of your toothbrush does not treat halitosis, but may give you relief for around 30 minutes,” their website states.

A young woman takes part in a teeth power brushing promotion in Sydney. Photo: AAP

Tips to treat bad breath

Here are some helpful tips to improve bad breath (courtesy of Harvard Medical School):

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day, after meals, with a fluoridated toothpaste
  • Avoid tobacco smoking and chewing tobacco-based products
  • Rinse and gargle with an alcohol-free mouthwash before bed
  • If you have dry mouth, make sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day and use over-the-counter moisturising agents, such as a dry mouth spray, rinses, or dry mouth moisturising gel
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Remember, oral causes are responsible for most cases of bad breath.

So what about probiotics?

The theory is that the probiotics in certain fermented foods like yoghurt or sourdough bread will interfere with the bacterial process of breaking down the amino acids. As a result, those compounds will not be released – no bad breath.

To explore the efficacy and effects of probiotics, researchers trawled through clinical trials.

They found that probiotics may inhibit the decomposition of amino acids and proteins by anaerobic bacteria in the mouth, so curbing the production of smelly by-products.

But they sound a note of caution.

The sample sizes of the included studies were small, and some of the data were incomplete.

“This systematic review and meta-analysis indicates that probiotics … may ease halitosis,” they wrote.

“But there is no significant effect on the major causes of halitosis, such as plaque and tongue coating.

“More high-quality randomised clinical trials are required in the future to verify the results and to provide evidence for the efficacy of probiotics in the management of halitosis.”

Topics: Health
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