From the Ayurvedic perspective, the root cause of bad breath is poor digestion and/or poor oral hygiene. The two are usually related, in that poor digestion accelerates oral activity that leads to unsavory breath. The good news is that there are some easy fixes that do not involve just masking bad breath.
Let’s look at a few causes. They include poor digestion, dry mouth, gum problems, tooth decay, poor oral hygiene, postnasal drip, some medications, respiratory issues and certain foods.
When it originates in the mouth, bad breath is due mainly to sulfur-producing bacteria that live on the surface of the gums, tongue and throat. When these bacteria in the mouth break down protein, 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.
Oral hygiene and balanced digestion are the first lines of defense in keeping your breath fresh. A good technique for removing the coating from the tongue is to use a tongue cleaner. Tongue cleaning has long been a part of the Ayurvedic tradition and is widely practiced in Eastern cultures. By removing the soft plaque from the tongue, especially the back of the tongue, 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 (mild or classic) 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.
Interestingly, your digestion also plays a critical role in tooth decay or health. In the morning, you may notice a white coating (ama) on your tongue. As mentioned above, this accumulation of ama provides 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 weakens the immune system, and hampers the flow of wastes out of the body, leading to the potential for occasional constipation.
Occasional constipation that can accompany faulty digestion influences your breath by continuing the cycle of poor digestion. 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 is a traditional digestion-supporting blend of Ayurvedic herbs. It supports regular elimination, more efficient digestion, overnight detoxification and the production of ojas, the master biochemical supporting radiant glowing 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.
Saliva flow also plays a role in your breath. Dryness in the mouth could mean you don't have sufficient flow. Saliva helps remove bacteria and debris from the mouth. Breathing through the mouth, drinking alcohol and certain medications can contribute to a saliva deficiency. Drinking plenty of water often helps by keeping your system hydrated, allowing your body to efficiently flush out accumulated waste and allowing efficient transfer of nutrients and blood flow. Water is literally the elixir of life — one should never take it for granted.
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 respiratory health and reduce mucus production. Mucus production is an indication of ama build-up in the system.
So 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 some accumulated ama in your body. To learn more about cleansing ama levels, read about safe ayurvedic detoxification.
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 the lungs and out your mouth. We have all had the experience of eating onion or garlic and the effect on our breath (and relationships). Animal protein and foods processed with sulfur additives, such as beer, wine, soft drinks and others, can also be culprits. Smoking is also a well known contributor to bad breath, discoloration of the teeth, and other oral problems.
Tip: When convenient, brush your teeth after meals, especially after eating or drinking milk products, fish or meats.
Spices: Powerful Ama-Fighters
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 such as gas and bloating. If you are new to Ayurvedic cooking, along with Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus), 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.
Spices are therapeutic herbs, according to Ayurveda. They work gently and gradually, with the benefits adding up over time without side effects. Ayurveda recommends eating whole foods that are organic and non-GMO whenever possible. These foods are seen to have higher levels of chetna, or innate intelligence. From both a modern and Ayurvedic perspective, organic, non-GMO foods are healthier and safer.
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. So 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 better breath.