Ramadan 2023: How to avoid bad breath when fasting

Brush once when you wake up, then again after iftar and before bed, say experts

Use a toothbrush with soft bristles to clean your tongue to help avoid bad breath. Photo: Science Photo Library
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While abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset can have many benefits for a person’s physical and mental health, it can also affect dental health.

“The changes in eating habits and dehydration during the day can lead to dental problems such as bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay," says Dr Basel Mofti, a specialist orthodontist at Dr Joy Dental Clinic in Dubai. "As such, maintaining excellent oral hygiene during Ramadan is essential to prevent such problems."

Here are some top tips for those who are fasting.

Flossing and fresh breath

Brush your teeth thrice daily, including when you wake up, after iftar and before bed.

"Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush, and make sure to brush your tongue as well. Also floss at least once daily to remove any food particles and plaque between your teeth," says Mofti. "Further, a mouthwash can help to freshen your breath and kill bacteria. Rinse your mouth with mouthwash after brushing and flossing. This also helps avoid plaque build-up.

"You could also use a miswak during the day to clean your teeth and freshen your breath," he says.

"Miswak is a traditional chewing stick prepared from the roots, twigs, and stem of Salvadora persica and has been used as a natural method for tooth cleaning in many parts of the world for thousands of years," explains Dr Carla Cyrino, a dentist at Cornerstone Clinic in Dubai.

She lists some benefits of miswak as: killing bacteria that cause gum disease; fighting plaque and cavities; preventing bad breath by creating a pleasant fragrance in the mouth; effectively cleaning between teeth due to the bristles being parallel to the handle rather than perpendicular; and increasing salivation, thereby inhibiting dry mouth.

Miswak, a traditional teeth-cleaning twig, helps with plaque removal. Getty Images

Stay hydrated

Both Mofti and Cyrino agree that drinking plenty of water during non-fasting hours is the most effective way to maintain a fresh mouth, as it keep the mouth moist and washes away food particles.

"A dry mouth and the reduction of saliva flow due to lack of water consumption is one cause of bad breath," explains Cyrino, who also recommends not eating too fast. "Eating slowly is an exercise for the salivary glands to be stimulated, so no salivary patterns or amount of saliva is lost. Also, chewing should be slow for the saliva to start the digestion process," she says.

"During fasting hours, it's important to gargle and rinse, without swallowing, to keep the mouth hydrated, as a dry mouth can lead to bad breath and tooth decay," says Mofti.

Foods to avoid

"Avoid salty, fried and sugary foods as these can make you thirsty and dehydrate the oral environment, which promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth, leading to tooth decay," says Mofti. "If you must eat high-sugar sweets, it is best to do so after main courses to minimise rapid acid build-up on the teeth and subsequent tooth decay."

He also recommends limiting coffee and tea intake as these can stain the teeth and cause bad breath. "If you must drink them outside of fasting hours, do so in moderation and brush your teeth afterwards."

Cyrino offers a list of foods she says "work like detergents when it comes to fighting bad breath".

  • Apple, carrot, cucumber and celery: These are classified as detergent foods due to their porosity and the presence of insoluble fibres that clean the teeth, preventing the formation of bacterial plaque.
  • Natural, sugar-free yoghurt: The high level of hydrogen sulfide gas in our bodies is one of the most common causes of bad breath and yoghurt neutralises the action.
  • Cherries: Red cherries blast the methyl mercaptan odours that are emitted from bad breath bacteria.
  • Leafy greens: Mint, coriander, tarragon, eucalyptus, rosemary and cardamom contain high amounts of chlorophyll, and so work as natural breath fresheners.
  • Fresh green juice: This will keep the mouth fresh and is also good for overall health. Cyrino shares her preferred recipe, listing ingredients such as pineapple, lemon or lime, ginger, parsley, spinach, mint, cucumber and celery.

Check-ups and corrective treatments

"It is a good idea to schedule a dental check-up before Ramadan to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy. If you experience any dental problems during the month, don’t procrastinate from seeking prompt treatment," says Mofti.

He recommends approaching corrective dental treatments "with a hygiene-first attitude. Orthodontic appliances influence dental plaque retention, which can cause more severe problems. Opting for advanced dentistry techniques that are easy to clean and non-invasive, such as the Invisalign clear aligner, can help ensure continued healthy and progressive treatment," says Mofti.

Updated: March 27, 2023, 10:01 AM