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July 21, 2009

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Watch your mouth, fight bad breath

FIGHTING bad breath takes more than chewing gum and using mouthwash. If halitosis is caused by imbalanced energy, then herbal medication can help. Zhang Qian takes a whiff of the problem.

Bad breath is a real turnoff, but mouth wash and chewing gum can't help for long if halitosis is caused by disordered energy.

Traditional Chinese medicine recommends rebalancing energy with herbal medication and adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet and strict oral hygiene.

Eating garlic and onions can cause bad breath, but it can usually be dispelled by eating nuts, chewing tea leaves or gum, drinking milk or gargling with vinegar or wine.

Halitosis, however, usually refers to a long-term problem of bad breath, not just caused by eating smelly foods. It can be caused by digestive problems, gum disease, tooth decay, gastritis and constipation.

Regular brushing and flossing gets rid of food particles that can decay and give off odor, eventually causing persistent bacterial infection and gum disease.

Unhealthy diet and a tiring lifestyle can weaken the stomach and intestines so that food is not properly digested, giving off a smell.

Bacterial infection in the digestive system, such as helicobacter pylori, can cause long-term bad breath but when the bacteria is killed the bad breath problem is solved.

According to TCM, internal pathogenic heat is the main cause of halitosis and it often gets worse in summer when pathogenic heat and damp prevail in the universe, and correspondingly, in the human body.

There's been a recent increase in pathogenic heat-related conditions, according to Dr Gong Yuping, chief of the Gastroenterology Department of Longhua Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

People with halitosis due to excessive heat are often thirsty and suffer mouth ulcers and constipation. They usually have flushed faces and red tongues with a yellow coating.

People who smoke, drink a lot or eating stimulating spicy foods often have excessive pathogenic heat, resulting in bad breath. They need to adjust their diet and shift to plainer foods.

Dr Gong recommends heat-dispelling herbs, such as huangqin (Baikal skullcap root), huanglian (rhizoma coptidis) and danpi (root-bark of tree peony). These are commonly prescribed. Rhubarb is often added if there's serious constipation. Eating pearl barley also helps dispel heat and damp.

Halitosis can be a problem for elderly people, those who are weak or are recovering from serious ailments. Yin (cold) energy efficiency and internal heat weaken their digestive system, causing bad breath.

They are often tired, may sweat a lot at night and have red tongues with a thick coating.

Patients with deficient yin in their lungs may also suffer coughing or constipation and have bad breath. Mulberry leaves, almonds, liquorice and maidong (ophiopogon root) are recommended.

Halitosis may occur in patients with deficient yin energy in the liver; they tend to suffer insomnia and are irritable. Nourishing the liver is the best treatment. Herbs like zhimu (rhizoma anemarrhenae), chuanqiong (hemlock parsley) and wild jujubes are recommended.

If you have bad breath - and sore back and legs - then you may be suffering deficient energy in the kidney. TCM doctors often prescribe patent drugs, such as Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan mainly made of zhimu, philodendron and prepared rhizome of rehmannia.

Other yin energy-reinforcing foods include white fungus, duck, lotus root and mung beans.

Good oral hygiene is a must. Dr Gong recommends quitting smoking, drinking and eating spicy foods while taking herbal medication. Sufficient sleep is necessary to prevent deficiency in yin energy.

Fighting bad breath

White fungus soup with honey

Ingredients: White fungus (30g), honey (10ml)

Method: Cook white fungus with water until the fungus softens.

Add honey, stir.

Eat often.

Function: Helps relieve bad breath due to yin deficiency. Reinforces yin energy, nourishes lungs, dispels toxins, improves skin.

Reed root soup

Ingredients: Fresh reed roots (100g), rock sugar (50g)

Method: Cook reed roots with water.

Add sugar to sweeten when it's almost done. Filter.

Eat often.

Function: Helps relieve bad breath due to excessive heat, nourishes lungs and stomach, relieves irritation and vomiting.

Lotus root and mung bean soup

Ingredients: Lotus root (50g), mung beans (50g)

Method: Cook with water until beans soften and water turns brown.

Add sugar to sweeten.

Eat often.

Benefits: Helps relieve bad breath due to pathogenic heat and damp, nourishes yin and helps treat chronic respiratory ailments.


1. Breath spray. Helps cover bad breath. First drink water, then use spray. It works for a couple of hours.

2. Mints. Helps cover bad breath caused by eating foods like garlic. It lasts about half an hour.

3. Medicated mouthwash. Helps relieve bad breath caused by inflammation in mouth or gums.

4. Brushing teeth. Helps relieve bad breath caused by food particles.

5. Scraping the tongue. Helps relieve bad breath caused by bacteria on tongue.


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