That Valentine kiss

VALENTINE’S Day was almost a week ago, and it’s a good time to do an annual bad-breath check to ensure your “kissability.” Although chocolate and flowers have come to be associated with Valentine’s Day, research shows that kissing is one of the oldest forms of expressing love and respect. In fact, the Veda Sanscrit, the epic Mahabhrata and the Kama Sutra all indicate that kissing started in India from 1500BC, although the Greeks and the Romans popularised it with the latter introducing the so-called “French kiss.”

Notwithstanding, the mystique of the passionate kiss involves desirability, which in turn may depend on the oral-health status of the parties. Now, we know that more than 85% of all Guyanese suffer from bad breath at some point.

There are steps that everyone can take to maintain good oral hygiene and prevent chronic bad breath. Aside from medical conditions such as oesophagal reflux and hiatal hernia, bad breath usually occurs from three oral sources: cavities, gum disease, and coatings of the tongue.

Most of us try to keep our teeth and gums clean by brushing and flossing after meals, but few people realize that the tongue has to be cleaned daily as well. The tongue has papillae and grooves that provide ideal places for bacteria to hide and multiply. By-products of bacterial metabolism, called volatile sulphur compounds, create the odour most associate with halitosis.

To eliminate most sources of oral odour and maintain healthy teeth and gums, floss between the teeth and brush with a soft toothbrush to avoid gum damage. Regular dental examinations will allow early detection of decay and gum disease before they become severe enough to cause bad breath.

Unhealthy teeth and gums are very unattractive, and if you have periodontal disease, your gums may be puffy, red, bleeding, or have pus under them. Large spaces may form between the tooth and gum. One should seek professional help if these signs appear. Others may consciously avoid close contact when these signs are visible, which is not good for romance.

The tongue’s surface is much stronger than gum tissue, so a soft toothbrush, the correct tool to use on your teeth, would not do the job on your tongue. Specially designed tongue cleaners exist which are firm enough to clean the irregular surface of the tongue, yet narrow and flexible enough to reach far back on the tongue, where odour-causing bacteria tend to accumulate.

The most common times when bad breath occurs are in the morning before brushing, if a long time passes between meals, and when taking medication that dries out the mouth. These are all instances of diminished salivary flow. Saliva has antibacterial properties that help limit halitosis, tooth decay and gum disease.

Snack on fibrous foods such as citrus fruits, nuts, or salads. This will stimulate salivary flow without providing the oral bacteria with the nutrients (sugar) they need to metabolise. That is why breath mints don’t work. While they stimulate the salivary flow and add fragrance to the air, they also feed the very bacteria causing the problem. Use non-toxic, breath-freshening products containing chlorine dioxide, such as Colgate toothpaste and mouth rinse. In case of a severe breath problem, see your dentist for halitosis therapy. Otherwise, your Valentine will respond with a big Ugh!, instead of a healthy and enthusiastic smooch.

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