Most people tend to pop a breath mint when their mouth doesn’t feel fresh, but from the perspective of Ayurveda, it’s important to address the root cause. As with most things in Ayurveda, the source of bad breath is often poor digestion—and, in this case, poor oral hygiene, too. The two are usually related, in that poor digestion accelerates oral activity that leads to unsavory breath. But here’s the good news: there are some easy Ayurvedic fixes that can freshen your breath from the inside, rather than just masking symptoms.
Funky Breath? Here Are Some Possible Causes
As you just read, bad breath often stems from things like poor digestion, dry mouth, gum problems, tooth decay, and oral hygiene issues. Other factors may play a role, too, such as postnasal drip, respiratory issues, certain medications, and some foods.
When it originates in the mouth, bad breath is generally caused by sulfur-producing bacteria that live on the surface of your gums, tongue, and throat. When these bacteria break down protein in your mouth, they release a sulfurous odor — causing bad breath. Improperly-digested food, known as ama in Ayurveda, coats the surfaces of the digestive tract and is the fodder that allows these unhealthy bacteria to thrive.
In Ayurveda, oral hygiene and balanced digestion are the first lines of defense when it comes to keeping your breath fresh. Let’s start with oral hygiene.
Ayurveda and Oral Hygiene
Here are some easy ways to keep your mouth clean and fresh.
- Tongue cleaning with a tongue scraper has long been a part of the Ayurvedic tradition and is widely practiced in Eastern cultures. By removing the soft plaque from your tongue (that “morning-mouth” coating), you eliminate the tongue-based bacteria that create the malodorous sulfur compounds.
- Ayurvedic experts also recommend brushing your teeth three times a day: just after waking up, before going to bed, and at least once during the day after you eat. Maharishi Ayurveda’s Ayurdent Herbal Toothpaste (peppermint or mild mint) is an excellent, traditional oral cleanser to promote tooth and gum health.
- Don't neglect to floss thoroughly in the morning, or at least once sometime during each day, to clean the area between the teeth. In addition to your at-home routine, visit your dentist regularly to check for cavities, and have your teeth cleaned periodically by a dental professional. A decaying tooth, just as anything that is rotting, can have quite an unpleasant smell. Good oral hygiene is a must for pleasant breath.
- To freshen your breath during the day, try chewing on mint leaves, cloves, or fennel seeds or try our Throat Ease herbal drops.
Better Digestion = Fresher Breath & Oral Health
Your digestion plays a critical role in tooth decay or health. If you notice a white coating of ama on your tongue in the morning, your mouth is a perfect breeding ground for the proliferation of bacteria. When the food you eat is not digested properly, ama is created, and not only in the mouth. It builds up in the body, clogging the microchannels (shrotas) and blocking the flow of nutrients and information to the different parts of the body. This in turn can weaken your immune system and hamper the flow of wastes out of the body, leading to occasional constipation.
A sluggish gut influences your breath by contributing to the cycle of poor digestion. But things like drinking plenty of water, eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, and adding prunes and figs to your diet will help support regular elimination. Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) is widely recommended by Ayurvedic experts. This traditional, digestion-supporting blend of Ayurvedic herbs supports regular elimination, more efficient digestion, overnight detoxification, and the production of ojas—the master biochemical that supports radiant skin, happiness, and more refined states of consciousness. The Ayurvedic formulation Herbal Cleanse, taken with Organic Digest Tone, can also promote digestion, detoxification, and regular elimination.
How Do You Know if You Have Ama?
If your tongue is coated with a sticky, whitish substance when you wake up in the morning, or if you have unpleasant body odor, bad breath, occasional discomfort in the joints, or post-lunch fatigue, you probably have a bit of accumulated ama in your body. But fear not! To learn more about how to gently cleanse ama from your system, you can read about Ayurvedic detoxification here.
Spices: Powerful Ama-Fighters for Better Breath
Spices are revered in Ayurvedic cuisine. They enhance digestion, help remove accumulated ama, and are valuable additions to your diet. Turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, mint, asafetida (hing), black pepper, dried powdered ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne are among the Ayurvedic spices that enhance digestion and metabolism, cleanse ama from the body, and help with digestive issues like gas and bloating. If you are new to Ayurvedic cooking, try the Maharishi Ayurveda Churnas (ready-to-use spice mixes), formulated to balance Vata, Pitta, or Kapha.
Spices contain a lipid-soluble portion and a water-soluble portion. This is why Ayurveda recommends sautéing your spices in organic ghee (clarified butter) or healthy oil such as organic olive oil before you add them to dishes. The sauté releases the lipid (oil-based) component of the spices. Ghee or oil also helps transport the therapeutic value of spices to the different parts of the body. Ayurveda generally recommends including a ghee-spice mixture in at least one meal of the day.
Saliva Flow & Respiratory Issues
Saliva flow also plays a role in your breath. Saliva helps remove bacteria and debris from the mouth; dryness in your mouth could mean you don't have sufficient flow. A saliva deficiency can be caused by things like breathing exclusively through your mouth, drinking alcohol, and taking certain medications. Drinking plenty of water often helps by keeping your system hydrated, allowing your body to efficiently flush out accumulated waste, and allowing the efficient transfer of nutrients and blood flow. Water is literally the elixir of life!
Unpleasant breath can also result from upper respiratory allergens and postnasal drip. If you are prone to occasional respiratory issues, see an Ayurvedic expert (vaidya), who can recommend an ama-reducing diet to support your respiratory health and reduce mucus production. Mucus production is an indication of ama build-up in the system.
Final Thoughts: Food Breath!
As you know, what you eat also affects your breath. Certain foods containing sulfur or other unusual smells can contribute to the scent of your breath. As food is absorbed into your bloodstream, it can sometimes be expelled by your lungs and out your mouth. Everyone’s had the experience of eating onions or garlic and the pungent smell that can seem to seep from your pores afterward! Animal protein can be another culprit, as can foods processed with sulfur additives (such as beer, wine, and soft drinks). When convenient, brush your teeth after meals, especially after eating or drinking milk products, fish, or meats.
Smoking is also a well-known contributor to bad breath—not to mention discoloration of the teeth and other oral problems. If you haven’t kicked the habit yet, be patient with yourself; the more you follow an Ayurvedic diet, the more unhealthy cravings tend to fall away.
Step by Step Toward Fresher Breath
In Maharishi Ayurveda, the parts are never considered in isolation from the whole. Even a minor problem like bad breath has a holistically-based solution in Ayurveda. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who revived Ayurveda in the West in the 1980’s, used an expression that beautifully describes the essence of Ayurveda’s holistic approach: “Water the root to enjoy the fruit.” The beauty of this approach is that, by nourishing the whole, the process of restoring balance takes place in all the individual areas where it is needed without negative side effects, and, at the same time, brings balance to the entire body and mind.
In the case of bad breath, the answer is strong digestion and proper diet—and the side effect of balancing and attending to these will be a cleaner mouth and fresh breath.
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