I first acquired the ability to brush my teeth virtually anywhere in my early 20s, when I lived in a tent on an organic farm. (I also learned how to comfortably sleep outside when it's below freezing, and how to dig irrigation ditches.)
As you know, I am a Chassidic Jew. That means that I keep the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath means that there is one day a week during which I cannot brush my teeth. As you also know, I am a little bit neurotic about hygiene. Over the course of many years, Sabbath after Sabbath, I've tested almost every known non-toothbrush means of cleaning my breath and teeth. Now I share them with you.
They don't require brushing and flossing. They are mostly non-toxic and natural. They are things you can keep in your purse for those moments when your mouth tastes like the inside of a moldy glove, but you are nowhere near a sink and toothbrush. Let's proceed.
Pick Your Teeth with Tea Tree Toothpicks and Rinse
Tea tree toothpicks are wooden toothpicks that are soaked in tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic oil. Since most run-of-the-mill bad breath can be chalked up to gunk between your teeth, keeping a stash of toothpicks in your bag is a wise move. While regular toothpicks will suffice, tea tree toothpicks taste minty and actually offer germ-killing cleaning power. I love the tingly antiseptic feeling that they give my mouth. My method is to pick between each of my teeth, working from one side to the other.
Once I have finished chunder-clearing duty, I rinse away the nasties that I have loosened. I first rinse with water, then with mouthwash. My mouthwash of choice is Tom's of Maine alcohol-free mouthwash. Tom's is superior because it actually cleans your mouth with baking soda, it contains Xylitol and it does not contain alcohol.
Mouthwashes that contain alcohol can actually exacerbate bad breath because the alcohol dries your mouth out. When your mouth is dry, bacteria grow there more easily. Xylitol is a naturally derived ingredient that alkalizes your saliva and kills certain dental bacteria.
While Tom's costs more than conventional mouthwash, I find the extra few bucks to be well spent. Nevertheless, if you are in a jam and only have a toothpick and water at your disposal, they are worth something.
Eat Some Parsley or Celery
Parsley is pretty much the only antidote for onion and garlic breath that I have found. The most effective way to use it is to eat a couple big handfuls of it, and then floss and brush, or at least pick and rinse the green flecks out of your month. Chlorophyll is the active ingredient in parsley that fights bad breath. If you are nowhere near a bunch of parsley, dry lettuce, which also contains chlorophyll, works fairly well and you are more likely to find it at your corner bodega.
You know when you have that acidic, sour taste in your mouth from eating sugary food or from drinking alcohol? Celery is bomb-dot-com in that situation. Chewing celery actually cleans your teeth. When I eat celery to clear up my breath, it feels like it neutralizes that mouth acid. This is particularly good to know when you've just polished off a plate of Buffalo wings and your breath reeks. Eat the celery and drink some water. Do not, under any circumstances, dip the celery sticks in blue cheese dressing.
Rinse with Cool Peppermint Tea or a Peppermint Oil Solution
While carrying a bottle of mouthwash in your purse might not be feasible, you can certainly tote around a peppermint tea bag or a small vial of peppermint essential oil. During a two-day holiday last year when my husband and I could neither brush nor go shopping, we discovered that we were out of mouthwash. What we did have in the house was peppermint tea bags and peppermint oil. To rinse with peppermint tea, simply brew the tea like you'd brew any other cup of tea, remove the tea bag from the cup and let the tea cool down to room temperature. At that point you can rinse with it.
I actually prefer peppermint oil to peppermint tea. It feels like it gets my mouth cleaner and it does not have that slight vegetable aftertaste that peppermint tea has. Put two drops of peppermint essential oil into a cup of water. Swish it around like mouthwash. It's very tingly and refreshing.
Bonus nausea cure: An acupuncturist friend of mine taught me to put one drop of peppermint essential oil on the inside of my wrist, and then lick it.
Wipe Your Mouth Out with a Towel or Napkin
When I am not able to brush, but my teeth are acquiring a coating that feels a bit like a wool sweater, I wipe my entire mouth down with the corner of a face cloth. In a jam, even a paper napkin helps. I take a dry face cloth or hand towel and wrap a corner of it around a finger. Then I scrub the gunk off of my teeth. I also wipe my tongue with it. While the sensation of wiping my teeth with a dry towel took some getting used to (it almost set off my gag reflex), I find that coupled with picking and rinsing it is quite effective at fighting bad breath.
Gum and Breath Strips
I have mixed feelings about gum and breath strips, but I still carry them in my bag in case I get rogue bad breath on the go. While they are full of chemicals and don't fix the problem at its root, they do offer much more effective bad breath control than mints do. They're also small, inconspicuous and socially normative.
My least pleasant tip is also my last: straight baking soda or baking soda mixed with cinnamon. Baking soda is completely unpleasant to use. It tastes like a combination of salt and soap. Adding cinnamon to it makes it slightly more palatable, but adds the comical experience of seeing your teeth covered in dark brown saliva. Still, it is utilitarian to keep a small jar of baking soda in your bag. Simply stick a moistened finger into the baking soda and then brush your teeth with your finger. Rinse well with water. You can also use baking soda as deodorant powder.
Is there a secret bad breath cure that I missed? Please share.
You can't smell Chaya's breath on Twitter: @chayakurtz.