Nothing spoils a kiss like unsavory breath. Although the culprit can be anything from a vitamin imbalance to dry mouth, bad breath usually is caused by food particles left in the mouth after a meal and the resulting bacteria, says Eric Shapira, DDS, a Montara, California- based spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry. So before your sweetie wrinkles his nose, check out these surefire ways to fight the funk.

Brush, floss, scrape

Like gums and the crevices between teeth, your tongue's grooved surface traps bacteria, which metabolize food remnants, producing a sulphur-dioxide by-product that causes a, well, nasty smell, says Shapira. The American Dental Association recommends brushing at least twice and flossing once each day. To knock out icky smells before they start, brush and floss immediately after eating, and unhinge particles on the back of your tongue by gently scraping the surface three or four times with a nonporous tongue “rake,” says Karen Gross, a registered dental hygienist in Boulder, Colorado. Follow up each exercise with a thorough swish of water to ensure that the culprits don't jump back into place.

Lubricate lips

Though lips are much smoother than your gums and tongue, even the slightest creases can trap food and microorganisms. Also, when dehydrated, sticky lip tissue becomes prime real estate for odorous bacteria. Shapira suggests drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily to keep your kissers hydrated and to whisk away lingering particles. And apply all-natural lip balm whenever your lips start to chap.

Employ herbs

Fresh-tasting oregano and sweet basil neutralize odors caused by eating dairy or pungent foods such as onions and garlic. According to herbalist Brigitte Mars, author of Beauty by Nature (Book Publishing, 2006), the antimicrobial properties of cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon bark also stymie microbes while offering powerful flavors that improve odor. Long used as a garnish sprinkled on robust-tasting dishes, chlorophyll-rich parsley kills scent-producing germs, as well.

Eat your fruits and veggies

Follow a garlic- or onion-laced dinner with a few nibbles of fruit or veggies. Besides being delicious, apples, oranges, and pineapples contain enzymes that break down odor-causing bacteria, says Shapira. Crisp, fibrous vegetables such as celery, jicama, and carrots also mollify mouth odor because chewing them — much like chomping on sugar-free gum — churns saliva, which quashes bacteria.

BREATH HELPERS FROM THE NATURAL PRODUCTS AISLE

Toothpaste Jason PowerSmile Cinnamon Mint Toothpaste Grapefruit-seed extract helps halt decay, and antiseptic cinnamon and cool-tasting peppermint make taste buds sing.
Nature's Answer PerioBrite Cool Mint Toothpaste Cloves, oregano, and cinnamon clean and freshen without alcohol, preservatives, or artificial colors.
Floss Dr. Ken's Unflavored Dental Gliding Floss Singles Vegan plant wax helps floss glide smoothly between teeth, while green-tea extract kills germs.
Tom's of Maine Naturally Waxed Antiplaque Round Floss Nylon fibers twisted together and coated with wax move smoothly between tight teeth but go easy on gums.
Tongue scraper Dr. Tung's Stainless Steel Tongue Cleaner Nonabrasive stainless steel gently removes tongue coating and is impervious to bacteria.
OraSweet Tongue Cleaner Specially arched to remove food and bacteria from the hard-to-reach back of your tongue.
Lip balm Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil Antioxidant-stocked pomegranate oil moisturizes and restores lips' texture.
Weleda Everon Lip Balm Organic shea butter, jojoba oil, and beeswax moisturize, and rose and vanilla extracts provide delicate scent.
-M.J.