Garlic Breath: How to Get Rid of It Fast!

That pungent garlic-loaded shrimp scampi you ate last night might be a mere memory to you, but your breath does not quickly forget. And though we all want to leave a lasting impression at a new job or on a romantic date, we hope it’s not our breath they remember.

Among garlic’s benefits, its lingering odor is not one of them. When you eat, foods are absorbed into your bloodstream and then travel to your lungs, where food particles are exhaled. That odor does not recede until the foods have passed through your body. Although how long it takes varies for each person, there are things you can do in the meantime to freshen up fast.

Here, five foolproof ways to bust garlicky bad breath for good.

Garlic Breath Fighter No. 1: Toothbrush and Floss
Brush and floss your teeth to get rid of garlic particles that may linger after you’ve eaten. For bad breath, your oral care regimen shouldn’t stop at your teeth. Also pay attention to your tongue, a major source of odor, says Susan Savage, a registered dental hygienist and president of the American Dental Hygienist Association. Due to its pits and crevices, the tongue can harbor smelly bacteria, food debris and dead cells. Use you toothbrush to clean your tongue, especially in the back, where most bacteria like to congregate.

Garlic Breath Fighter No. 2: Fruits and Veggies
No floss on hand? Head to the nearest fruit bowl instead. Carrots, celery and apples aren’t just for better nutrition -- they’re an all-natural way to gently clear the teeth and gums of loose debris. The chewing action scrapes and cleanses the teeth, while massaging the gums (an added bonus), says Dr. Arnold H. Rosencheck, assistant dean of the dental school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. According to a study published in Food Science and Technology Research, apples and unripe pears are especially helpful in eliminating garlic odor.

Garlic Breath Fighter No. 3: Mouthwash
Savage suggests using minty mouthwashes containing substances like eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol, which have all been shown to fight bad breath. If you are out of mouthwash and need a solution fast, vigorously rinsing with water can help eliminate those food particles left over from the garlic.

Garlic Breath Fighter No. 4: Milk
You know that milk is good for you thanks to its teeth-strengthening calcium, but here’s another perk: A study in the Journal of Food Science found that milk has a deodorizing effect. “The sulfur in garlic is what causes the problem, and calcium binds the sulfur, neutralizing the odor in your mouth,” explains Duffy MacKay, a naturopathic doctor and the vice president of Science and Regulatory Affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition. Researchers suggest washing down that garlic-infused meal with a glass of milk -- preferably whole, as its fat content makes it more effective -- to help reduce the concentration of chemicals responsible for garlic’s lingering effect.

Garlic Breath Fighter No. 5: Parsley
Mixing basil or parsley with garlic may help reduce garlic breath, because plant chemicals in these herbs called polyphenols may interact with the sulfur compounds to neutralize the odors in garlic, says registered dietitian Samantha Heller. Chewing a small amount of parsley, which contains chlorophyll, an effective deodorizer, also goes a long way toward combating bad breath, adds Rosencheck.

How do you beat garlic breath? Share in the comments below or @Completely_You

Quiz: Are You Falling for Dental Myths?

Do you know all there is to know about maintaining a healthy smile? See if you can separate oral health facts and fiction.

Myth or Truth? Fewer sweets means fewer rotten teeth.

Myth. “More important than the actual amount of sugar you consume is the frequency,” says Dr. Rob Berg, chairman of applied dentistry at the University of Colorado, in Denver. Here’s why: Nasty bacteria, called streptococcus mutans, that live in your mouth are primarily responsible for tooth decay. Every time you eat, they feed on the sugar in food and drinks and produce enamel-destroying acid waste. So “if you’re habitually bathing your teeth in sugar throughout the day and night, it’s a never-ending process,” says Berg.

What to do: Limit eating sweets to mealtimes, when your streptococcus mutans is revved up anyhow. If not at mealtime, finish your drink or sweet snack within a half hour, advises Berg.

Myth or Truth? Adults are as susceptible as kids to tooth decay.

Truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of the rewards for getting older was that our teeth somehow became impenetrable? Not so, unfortunately. Dry mouth -- a common ailment caused by medications, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis -- makes many adults highly susceptible to tooth decay. “We want saliva. It’s wonderful because it buffers harmful acid in the mouth,” says Dr. Boyd Robinson, associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in Gainesville.

What to do: Talk to your doctor and dentist about switching medications or using special rinses and pastes formulated to help moisten the mouth. Drinking water throughout the day and chewing sugarless gum are also great mouth moisteners. (For more tips on dry mouth relief, see our recent feature here.)

Myth or Truth? A restored tooth is more likely to have future problems.

Truth. Once a tooth has been damaged, there’s a lot that can be done to fortify it, but the integrity of the tooth will never be the same. A damaged tooth is more susceptible to cracks and chips; plus cavities could still occur, as bacteria like to latch on at the margins where a filling or crown meets the tooth.

What to do: You guessed it: Brushing twice a day and flossing daily is your best defense against future tooth decay anywhere in your mouth.

Myth or Truth? Women with osteoporosis are twice as likely to lose a tooth.

Myth. The number is actually higher: Women with osteoporosis, or low bone density, are three times as likely as their peers to lose a tooth. After all, teeth are anchored into the jaw, which is a bone. Therefore, anything that affects your bones can also affect your teeth.

What to do: Eating plenty of calcium-rich foods such as dairy products and tofu may help keep your jaw and other bones healthy. Engaging in weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing and jogging also seems to help. If you’re 50 years or older, or have a family history of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about getting your bone density tested. Osteoporosis medications may help prevent damage to your bones and teeth.

Myth or Truth? White teeth are healthier than yellow teeth.

Myth. We may be obsessed with gleaming white teeth, but often, color tells you nothing about the true health of your choppers, says Robinson. For example, teeth can be bleached very white, but the bone supporting them could be in dire shape. Also, as you age, your teeth naturally become more yellow because more dentin, which lies beneath enamel, is exposed. “This is a normal process,” says Robinson.

What to do: Pay attention to bleeding gums or pain when you chew -- these tell-tale signs could mean that your mouth really is in trouble.

How the Dentist Helps Your Heart

No matter how busy you are, here is another reason you should make time for regular dental visits: They can save your life.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of American women, and women who get adequate dental care reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems by at least one-third, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley. The study links artery-clogging plaque, a major cause of heart attack and stroke, to bacteria in the mouth.

The Berkeley study, which involved people over age 43, also found that while women receiving dental care reduced their cardiovascular risk by at least one-third, men did not see any heart health benefit. This may be because dental care has the most effect in the earliest stages of heart disease, says lead author Timothy Brown, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and management at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. Since women tend to develop heart disease about 10 years later than men, the women in the study were less likely to have advanced heart disease.

How can you tell if plaque is taking you down the wrong path? "If your gums bleed when you floss or brush, it's quite possible that bacteria are getting into the bloodstream that could lead to stroke or heart attack later in life," says Kevin Muench, a family dentist in Maplewood, N.J. So get to the dentist soon -- regular dental visits typically involve preventive procedures to keep gums healthy and guard against inflammation, which can create a portal into the bloodstream for bacteria.

And if you’re not due back to the dentist in a while, follow the two cardinal rules of long-term health in the meantime to reduce your risk of heart disease and keep your smile healthy:

1.  Slow down on sugar.

Sugar, long associated with cavities, is now being blamed for increasing risk of heart disease. Last year, the American Heart Association recommended limiting daily sugar intake to about 6 teaspoons for women and about 9 teaspoons for men.

2.  Make flossing a habit.
Regular flossing may reduce risk of heart attack, according to a new study from University of Bristol in England. Flossing daily helps reach those areas of the mouth the toothbrush can’t, protecting against inflamed gums, which open the door to dangerous bacteria that may trigger deadly heart disease.

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Oral Health Risks Women Need to Know

It’s not fair but it’s true: Women are more susceptible to some oral health problems than men are. The reason? Hormonal changes.

For one thing, women are especially vulnerable to gum irritation and inflammation -- called gingivitis -- during pregnancy. The chances of having sore, swollen, bleeding gums also rise around menstruation, though some women’s gums are more sensitive to monthly hormonal shifts than are others. 

During pregnancy, progesterone and estrogen levels rise. “This causes changes in the functioning of the immune system, giving bacteria more of a chance to grow and making inflammation more likely,” explains Dr. Yiping Han, a professor of periodontics and pathology at Case Western University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland. “This can lead to gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal disease that’s reversible.”

When Gum Disease Is More Than Mild

By contrast, the more serious form of periodontal disease -- periodontitis -- can have lasting consequences for a woman’s oral health, pregnancy and overall health. “If a woman already has periodontal disease, it’s not uncommon to see it get worse with pregnancy,” says Han. This is especially worrisome because periodontal disease during pregnancy has been linked with preterm delivery as well as babies with low birth weight. Meanwhile, research suggests that having gum disease at any time in life is associated with an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes.

The Link to Dry Mouth

Hormonal changes also affect the pH and consistency of saliva, a crucial factor in oral health, says Dr. Shehzad Sheikh, a dentist at Dominion Dental Care in Sterling, Va. For example, many women experience xerostomia -- aka dry mouth -- during pregnancy and menopause. When this happens, “saliva has less ability to wash away plaque and bacteria that stick to teeth, which increases the risk of cavities,” says Sheikh.

Protecting Your Oral Health

To maintain healthy gums and teeth, practice stellar oral care by brushing for at least two minutes and flossing your teeth thoroughly twice a day, and see your dentist at least twice a year. During pregnancy, brush your teeth after every meal and schedule a dental checkup during the second trimester, suggests Sheikh. By taking these steps, you’ll be able to protect your mouth from inevitable hormonal shifts.

I Was a Brace Face … at 30

What’s it like having adult braces?

Interesting, to say the least, but also much more than I expected.

I’m a flight attendant, so I consider a great smile essential to my job. I’d always wanted perfectly straight teeth, but where I grew up in Greece, braces weren’t common -- even among kids. When I moved to the United States in my mid-twenties, however, I noticed a lot of people wearing braces here. I found the courage to do it at age 30. I originally considered invisible braces, but they were too expensive, so I opted for a white porcelain setting.

At first I was naturally a bit embarrassed of my new appearance. There I was, front and center, standing exposed among a sea of seated passengers. I’d look down the aisle and feel as if everyone was staring at me and my mouth. But almost immediately, I recognized that my braces actually attracted people in a good way. Those who’d had braces themselves or were considering them would approach me with compliments and questions. It was as if we belonged to the same club and shared some special understanding. My braces even turned out to be a great guy magnet. Men used them quite often as a conversation starter -- and I actually ended up dating one admirer for a while!

My adult braces also turned out to be my new favorite fashion accessory. At first, I only used clear rubber bands to avoid any extra attention. But after a while, I decided to test-drive a splash of color: light blue, then pink and eventually fuchsia. I even started to coordinate my rubber band colors with certain significant events: When I went on an island vacation, I’d wear light blue ones to match the sea. In October, I’d wear pink bands for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I had my braces on for three years, and I honestly grew to love them. I encourage any adult who is considering braces to set their fear aside and just go for it. My teeth are super-straight now, and I love my new smile. And I can honestly say that I actually miss my braces!