A veteran dentist helps us brush up on the latest in good dental health practices. Our loved ones will thank her.

How common is bad breath? Does everybody have it sometimes?

We all have morning breath. Morning is the worst. It’s usually because of a lack of saliva production at night, especially if you’re a mouth breather. Your saliva dries up, causing dry mouth.

What are the biggest culprits once we’re out of bed?

The main cause of bad breath are bacteria in your mouth, which is why brushing and cleaning between your teeth are so important. Other culprits include smoking and drinking coffee. And a lot of bad breath comes from eating garlic or onions, as vapors release into the lungs. That’s why it might take a little while to clear up that form of foul odor. High-protein diets also are something to watch. And some medications decrease saliva. Bad breath could be because of digestive problems, such as acid reflux, as well as chronic illnesses including diabetes, and liver or kidney problems.

Is there a way to tell whether we have bad breath?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a tried-and-true way of really finding out. You get used to the smells in your mouth. Some people breathe into their shirt, but I’m not sure that’s going to tell them much. Spouses are the best. And grandchildren.

Spouses? That seems fraught. Can you say more?

It needs to be done lovingly. The message is all about the tone. My husband will put his hand gently on my shoulder and say something like, “Maybe you need to brush again?” Offering a breath mint can help, too, but it’s temporary.

If you’re still married after that comment, what’s the best toothpaste to buy? There are so many!

Dentists call this “the dental aisle of confusion.” Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal, which means that the brand has been independently tested. This goes also for toothpastes for sensitive teeth, for tartar control and whitening. The same is recommended for mouthwashes. The ADA seal of acceptance tells you the product has been proven to kill bacteria that cause bad breath.

How often should we brush?

Twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.

How often are we supposed to replace our toothbrush?

When the edges start to fray; typically, every three months. The bristles should be straight. Make sure you’re using a soft toothbrush. We only get one layer of enamel in our lives.

How about chewing gum?

If you’re at work and you can’t brush after a meal, chewing gum is good, as long as it’s sugar-free.

What’s with tongue-brushing?

Bacteria love to live on the back your tongue, where taste buds tend to be bigger. If you gag when you brush back there, try a tongue-scraper.

If we do that, we don’t have to floss, right?

Not so fast. We are getting away from flossing, but you still should clean between your teeth every day. I floss, and use interdental cleaners, which are like little Christmas tree brushes that go between your teeth. It’s simple. Everyone can do it.

If my dentist sees something or, more accurately smells something, is she or he supposed to say something?

The dentist and the dental hygienist should work together to treat any problems in your mouth. That includes bad breath. Be your own advocate. If your dentist doesn’t say anything, ask.

Answers provided by Dr. Kim Harms, retired dentist, former president of the Minnesota Dental Association and national spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.