Green tea may hobble, but can't halt, bad breath
SUMMARY: A number of studies have suggested that drinking green tea as an alternative health therapy may confer a number of physical benefits, since its naturally occurring compounds reportedly neutralize everything from free radicals to bad breath. The latter is not entirely true, but it is based in reality, anyway.
Posted: May 19, 2011
A number of studies have suggested that drinking green tea as an alternative health therapy may confer a number of physical benefits, since its naturally occurring compounds reportedly neutralize everything from free radicals to bad breath. The latter is not entirely true, but it is based in reality, anyway.
A study published in the Journal of Dental Research recently announced that a class of molecules called catechins may reduce the creation of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) in the mouth.
Specifically, researchers found that epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a catechin found in green tea, suppresses a gene found in common oral bacteria that controls the creation of methyl mercaptan, a VSC that lends halitosis its nasty smell.
While the finding may be exciting, it is a little misleading. EGCg is an antioxidant that also acts as a microbicide, but research has shown that antibacterial substances cannot "cure" bad breath, since every single bacterium in the mouth cannot be eliminated.
One of the best alternatives to sipping green tea for oral odor is to regularly rinse the palate with a specialty breath freshening mouthwash, especially one that is designed to neutralize VSCs and moisten the mouth.
That is not to say that green tea does nothing for oral health. In the same study, scientists noted that about 100 micrograms of EGCg per milliliter of water (mcg/mL) slowed the growth of the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis. At a higher concentration - 187.5 mcg/mL - the EGCg found in green tea killed the species of microorganism.
P. gingivalis is one of the microbial strains responsible for gingivitis and periodontal disease, which are two common causes of halitosis. Individuals with periodontitis are at special risk for oral odor, since the disease causes dental roots to rot, leading to tooth loss and advanced decay.
Another study, this one in the Journal of Food Lipids, found that EGCg prevented the oxidation of meat fats, which could reduce the severity of bad breath after an especially savory or meat-heavy meal.
However, green tea has its limits. Slurping down a cup of it after eating meat will probably not do much for halitosis, since the EGCg concentrations in the aforementioned were higher than those usually found in green tea.
It may be better to brush, floss and take a daily oral care probiotic pill, which can gradually replace harmful bacteria with less offensive varieties.
If you need a historical example of how green tea is no substitute for good oral care, look to Mao Zedong. The Chairman never brushed his teeth, preferring to rinse his mouth with green tea every day. According to several contemporary accounts, his teeth looked "coated with green paint."