Sorry, but Your Favorite Holiday Foods Cause Some Seriously Bad Breath

Whether you call it "bad breath" or "halitosis," it smells just as bad, and what you're eating and drinking during the holidays can actually make it worse. Find out how, why, and what foods to avoid.

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While most bad breath is caused by bacteria that’s already in your mouth (as part of the normal digestive process but also as a result of gum disease, tooth decay, dry mouth, sinus problems and other health issues), what you eat and drink can exacerbate the problem. For example, all of these everyday foods can cause bad breath by reacting with the existing bacteria, including giving you dry-mouth, which magnifies the stink. And at this time of year, the list of what causes bad breath gets even longer, according to Mazen Natour, DMD, MScD, a New York City-based dentist and prosthodontist.

“The cakes, sweets, and candies that are in abundance around the holidays can be extremely bad for your teeth,” Dr. Natour explains, and what’s bad for your teeth is bad for your gums as well. As a result, there’re more bacteria in your mouth that can cause smelly breath. On top of that, holiday meals tend to be particularly loaded with ingredients that interact with bacteria to create a stink. These include:

  • Poultry: Any food that is high in protein will have a tendency to react with mouth bacteria to create an unpleasant smell.
  • Ham: Ham creates a double-whammy on the breath because not only is it high in protein, but also the way it’s prepared (think: salted, cured, smoked), also leads to dry mouth.
  • Booze: Not only does it leave a distinctive odor, it’s also dehydrating.
  • Wine and cheese: This classic party snack packs a double bad-breath wallop: the wine is dehydrating, and the cheese is rich in protein.
  • Cranberry sauce: If it’s loaded with sugar, as most cranberry sauces are, it’s going to be no better for your teeth (and your breath) than a slice of cake.
  • Garlic and onions: These break down into sulfuric compounds, and sulfur stinks. In addition, garlic can make your mouth dry, Dr. Natour points out.
  • Spices: Any spice (including the nutmeg in your eggnog) has the tendency to make your breath stink, and the stronger the spice, the smellier your breath is likely to be.

So the question becomes: how to get rid of bad breath? According to Dr. Natour, for the most part, you can’t do much except allow the process of digestion to eliminate the source. But practicing good oral hygiene to minimize the bacteria in your mouth is always a good idea. That includes brushing your teeth, flossing, chewing sugar-free gum, and seeing your dentist every six months. Chewing sugar-free gum is also a good remedy for dry-mouth. Here are some other dry-mouth solutions to put you on your way to fresher breath.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.