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Beating bad breath during Ramadān


This month is a sacred time for all Muslims when we are required to abstain from all food and drink during daylight hours in order to obey the one we love, Allāh the Most High.

However, hunger and thirst are not the only obstacles during this month, a common complaint especially amongst Muslims required to work with others is bad breath or halitosis given that bad breath can lead to a decrease in self-confidence and insecurity in social and intimate relations. [1]

Halitosis is the term used to describe an unpleasant odour exhaled through the mouth. Bad breath has a significant impact; indeed, researchers say it is the third most common reason for patients to visit a dentist.[2] So what can we do to reduce or eliminate bad breath whilst fasting? To be able to understand how to reduce bad breath, it would be prudent to have some understanding of the origins of it.

What causes bad breath?

In most cases (85-90%) the origins of bad breath are from the mouth.[3] The intensity of bad breath however can differ depending on diet and dryness of the mouth etc. As a result of the mouth being drier whilst fasting (where drinking any form of liquid is impermissible), there is more of a potent smell. Bad breath is thought to originate mainly from the dorsum of the tongue. In 5-10% of cases bad breath originates from the nose and sinuses and in 3-5% of cases from the tonsils. Other rarer origins are systemic diseases and according to the vast majority of researchers, the stomach and digestive tract plays a very negligible role.[4] Foul odours are mainly produced due to the anaerobic breakdown by bacteria of proteins into individual amino acids, followed by the further breakdown of certain amino acids to produce detectable foul gases. For example, the breakdown of cysteine and methionine produce hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercaptan respectively. Volatile sulphur compounds have been shown to be statistically associated with oral malodour levels.

Large quantities of naturally-occurring bacteria are often found on the posterior dorsum of the tongue, where they are rather undisturbed by normal activity. This part of the tongue is also quite dry and poorly cleansed, and bacterial populations can thrive on remnants of food deposits, dead epithelial cells and postnasal drip (PND). The convoluted microbial structure of the tongue dorsum provides an ideal habitat for anaerobic bacteria. Over 600 types of bacteria can be found in the average mouth, of which several dozen produce high levels of foul odours when incubated in the laboratory.[5]

Other parts of the mouth may also contribute to the overall odour, but are not as common as the back of the tongue. These include inter-dental and sub-gingival niches, faulty dental work, food-impaction areas in-between the teeth, abscesses and unclean dentures. In some people, bad breath is associated with gum disease, especially if rubbing the areas between the teeth and gums yields a foul odour. Your dentist can help prevent and treat gum diseases in various ways, depending on the type and extent of the problem, but your own daily home care makes all the difference in maintaining gum health between appointments. Cleaning of the spaces between the teeth is of great importance. People with gum disease often have higher levels of odour coming from their tongue.[6]

During fasting bad breath seems to be worse. Why would this be? Saliva is the natural mouthwash we were born with. It contains antibacterial agents, and competes with bacteria for scarce resources such as iron. Saliva helps wash the bacteria from the mouth, and the saliva layer helps the oral odours from escaping. Bad breath is worst when there is little or no saliva flow, for example after a night’s sleep. As soon as one wakes up and starts to salivate, the smell recedes. That is why bad breath increases when we fast.

How do we beat it?

The things that we can do to reduce bad breath both during Ramaḍān and throughout the year should now be obvious and the reasoning should be easier to understand. The first thing would be to maintain proper oral hygiene. This would include tongue cleaning. Gently cleaning the tongue twice daily is the most effective way to keep bad breath in control; that can be achieved using a tongue scraper to wipe off the bacterial biofilm, debris, and mucus. Ask your dentist to recommend a scraper for your tongue. A toothbrush should be avoided as the bristles only spread the bacteria in the mouth, and grip the tongue, causing a gagging reflex.[7] Scraping of the V-shaped row of tastebuds found at the extreme back of the tongue should also be avoided. Brushing a small amount of saltwater onto the tongue surface will further inhibit bacterial action. Eating a healthy breakfast with rough foods helps clean the very back of the tongue too. [8]

One should also brush regularly, for four minutes, twice a day. It is of paramount importance that we time ourselves since we have little idea of how much time we have actually spent brushing. Several studies have shown that we generally spend less time brushing than we perceive unless it is one’s routine to time oneself. When brushing we should clean our teeth and gums[9], especially cleaning even more thoroughly after eating or drinking milk products, fish and meat – especially at Suḥur time. Flossing should be implemented daily and choose unscented floss so that you can detect those areas between your teeth that give off odours, and clean them more carefully.

What about miswāk?

What would also be recommended to the fasting person is the specific use miswāk throughout the day. The miswāk (also known as siwāk or sewāk) is a teeth cleaning twig cut from a branch of the Salvadora persica tree, also known as the arak tree (or peelu tree). It is well-known amongst most Muslims—but is using a miswāk effective at cleaning one’s mouth?

The Wrigley Company carried out a study on miswāk which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study found that mints laced with miswāk extract were 20 times more effective in killing bacteria than ordinary mints. After half an hour, the mints laced with miswāk extract killed about 60% of the bacteria where as the ordinary mints managed only 3.6%.

In the August issue of Journal of Periodontology (2008) appeared a study conducted by Swedish researchers on miswāk. The study apparently found that suspended miswāk pieces in a Petri dish (containing medium for growing bacteria) were able to kill bacteria that cause periodontal disease with out being in physical contact with the bacteria. The researchers suggested that miswāk might be providing antibiotics as gases, trying to explain this phenomenon.

Another study which compared tooth-brushing and using miswāk can be found on Pubmed (U.S National Library for Medicine Service). The study concluded that miswāk was more effective than tooth brushing in reducing plaque and gingivitis provided it was used correctly. Similarly a study conducted by a group of dentists at King Saud University concluded that using miswāk was at least as good as tooth-brushing, if not better.

The effectiveness of miswāk has been attributed to its strong antibacterial properties. Another feature of miswāk thought to contribute to its effectiveness, mentioned by the King Saud University study, is that its bristles are parallel to the handle rather than perpendicular which means effective cleaning between the teeth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) interestingly enough recommended the use of the miswāk in 1986. So we would have to agree that using miswāk is both rewardable and effective.

In summary

Bad breath seems to be more potent when fasting due to the dryness of the mouth. To reduce this it would be recommended to drink plenty of fluids during the evening and suhūr time. If you are a denture wearer, it would be advisable for you to soak the denture in an antiseptic mouthwash overnight. Regular visits to the dentist are also essential although we may not enjoy them. There may be cavities, broken fillings, spacing between teeth, or pockets that may be allowing food packing which may in itself be causing a foul smell.

So in conclusion, if you want to beat the bad breath during Ramaḍān, then clean your tongue, brush thoroughly (especially after those meat and fish curries!) and drink plenty of fluids whenever you can.


This article has been reposted, last posted on 4 August 2011.


[1] Social relations and breath odour, published in International Journal of Dental Hygiene Nov. 2003

[2] Review of attendance behaviour in Dental Update April 2007

[3] The science of bad breath. Sci Am. 2002 Apr

[4] ibid

[5] Rosenberg M. Clinical assessment of bad breath: current concepts. J Am Dent Assoc. 1996 Apr

[6] Scully C, Rosenberg M. Halitosis. Dent Update. 2003 May

[7] ibid

[8] Production and origin of oral malodour J Periodontol. 1977 Jan)

[9] Scully C, Rosenberg M. Halitosis. Dent Update

About Hussain Abdul


  1. Yahya Abuelzein

    A fantastic article! And referenced! I kindly request that this article stay up for people to read throughout the year.

  2. Rizwan Abdul Hamid Patel

    Simple solution – Follow Prophet Muhammad (SALLALLAHU ALAYHI WASALLAM) i.e. follow MISWAQ…No mouth/throat issue “IN SHAA ALLAH”

  3. Assalamu alaikum

    Having read this article and with the greatest of respect to the author, I found it a little patronising.

    The author seems to give the impression one can beat BB whilst fasting by maintaining oral hygiene. We would assume those that are reading this are doing this anyway ! The reader really does not need a lecture on maintaining good oral hygiene. The reality is that the odour in this situation comes from the stomach and there will always be an element of it whilst fasting.

    “Bad breath seems to be more potent when fasting due to the dryness of the mouth. To reduce this it would be recommended to drink plenty of fluids during the evening and suhur time”

    No amount of water drunk during iftar and suhoor will help the dryness one experiences at around 8pm during their fast.

    I would kindly request this article be retracted since it has no link to Ramadan. It is understood there will be an odour from the breath whilst fasting, as per the hadith that we all know – this type of odour is pleasing to Allah ( in this particular context ).

    • Salam,

      People can feel offended by having a console over a PC. A bit useless I would say. We sure hope the author of this article had no intention of patronizing the readers. But of course, express your emotions.

      The author is talking about BAD BREATH and how to reduce it. Nothing wrong with that.

      ”The reader really does not need a lecture on maintaining good oral hygiene”
      As if you are saying, we do not need a lecture on Islam.
      Halitosis is common. ”some studies have reported that approximately 50 percent of the adult population does have it.” But, ”There are no statistics on what percentage of the population has bad breath. That’s because studies usually rely on someone reporting whether or not they think they have bad breath and may not be accurate.”
      ”The reality is that the odour in this situation comes from the stomach and there will always be an element of it whilst fasting.”

      He did cite a source concerning the ‘Stomach Breath’ which is not common but it sure exists. Again, reducing bad breath.

      -”In most cases (85-90%) the origins of bad breath are from the mouth. (emphasize added)”

      ”No amount of water drunk during iftar and suhoor will help the dryness one experiences at around 8pm during their fast.”

      That was his recommendation, whether that was a fact or not.

      A request for this article to be retracted because YOU believe it has no link to Ramadan is going a bit…”off the edge”. Reiteration is not my thing but here it goes:

      We are talking about BAD breath! I do not believe the hadith was talking about BAD breath but the ‘Fasting’ breath. Though you need to keep this in mind, what defines bad breath. It’s mostly subjective.

      But there are devices that can ‘meausre bad breath’. (I giggle when I say that).

  4. Allah says ‘the smell of the fasting person is much better than the smell of musk’
    my advice is to brush your teeth once a year

  5. Great article masha’Allah. I don’t however recommend Corsodyl or any other mouthwash for that matter. It has been conclusively proven by independent clinical trials that prolonged use of mouthwashes cause cancer of the mouth and make your gums dark and discoloured.

    They are nothing more than a cocktail of chemicals that are not recognised by the body and can cause some serious issues long term. If you want a natural alternative, stick to the miswak and also do oil pulling using coconut oil. Put one teaspoon of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around for a MINIMUM of 5 minutes before spitting out in the bin. (Not the sink or loo, or you’ll clog the drain)

    I had bleeding gums for months and within days of doing this they stopped bleeding and my mouth felt fresh ALL day. Highly recommended and natural remedy too.

    • Yes ive been doing oil pulling for the past two months. It is AMAZING what it has done to my oral hygiene. Not to mention my teeth got whiter and also my hives allergy reduced drastically.

  6. Fantastic article
    I really enjoyed this article. Jazakallahu khair

    It was well researched, well-written and informative.

    There is nothing wrong with the title as some brothers have suggested and certainly not ‘trashy’. It is quite lighthearted and more attention-grabbing than ”Maintaining Oral Hygiene During Ramadhan”.

  7. Odour from burning sugars
    Salaamoe alaikoem. Dear,

    Keeping your mouth clean is always a good thing to do, but to say that all the odour comes only from bacterian and rest of food , is wrong. When someone fasts he is burning first his sugars. Are these completely used, then the liver is converting something that is in the liver to sugar. after this, the fat will be burned. after this the mussles will be burned.

    Of course, because we break our fast daily, we will never come to the last fase of burning mussles. But what I still remember is that there will be an odour because of the sugar that burns.

    Correct me if I remembered it not correctly

    With kind regards

  8. Use Corsodyl (alcohol free). You will be grateful inshallah
    As a person who has had issues over the years with halitosis even when not fasting, I can safely say, Corsodyl is very effective for minimizing halitosis. It has the effect of helping generate saliva and is recommend for gum desease.

    Costs £5 or so from most chemists (please make sure it is the alcohol free version).

    An important point is to use a few minutes before suhoor finishes and NOT RINSE OUT THE MOUTH AFTER REMOVING THE MOUTHWASH. it is most effective in thus way and should be safer for preserving the fast inshallah.

  9. Mr.
    Alhamdullilah as a norm we are required to do wudu before each salath. [5.06 ] O YOU who have attained to faith! When you are about to pray, wash your face, and your hands and arms up to the elbows, and pass your [wet] hands lightly over your head, and [wash] your feet up to the ankles……
    So if we clean our mouth 5 times a day( with or without a miswak) where is the question of having bad breath, unless in case of some sickness which needs medical attention ??

  10. Excellent CORSODYL mouthwash (non alcoholic one) After suhur – Try it and remember me in your dua!
    To all brothers and sisters, PLEASE use Corsodyl (non alcoholic), costs about £5, can get from most chemists. should reduce about 80 percent of bad breath throughout the day bi idhnillahi ta’alaa.

    As a person with breath issues even when not fasting I have found Corsodyl non alcoholic mouthwash to be very effective during fasting to minimize halitosis. it helps the mouth stay moist by helping generate saliva, and is also recommend for gum disease.

    after brushing after suhoor, alhamdulillah it is very effective in keeping the mouth free of most of the odour.

    I would not be commenting on this if I had not found it extremely beneficial. Along with siwak it should be more than enough to tackle the problem.

    ONE IMPORTANT POINTER … leave a minute or two before suhoor ends as you will need to NOT rinse out the mouthwash with water for the most benefit. This means you will have a little of the mouthwash in the saliva, so a few minutes before Fajr enters would be ideal to stay safe from any risk of nullifying the fast inshallah.

  11. john bradford

    Bad breath
    I forgot to say that salt mouthwash is incredibly effective also. I once got gingvitis – notorious for producing halitosis and destroying gum tissue – and mouth-washed alternatively with salt and thymol and the dentist was astounded at its effectiveness and called other dentists in practice to observe “non-odiferous” condition of the gum disease!

  12. john bradford

    halitosis/bad breath
    There are lots of hadith about this sort of thing. Generally, I have got the impression that it is ok to mouthwash when fasting, but I must check again: because in the wudu you are washing out mouth and tongue, arent you?

    Most halitosis is from teeth crevices and interstices so use dental floss every time you can: nowadays floss comes on little sticks or on a thing like a toothbrush. I am sure The Prophet, upon Whom be peace, advocated toothpick also, someone check hadith for me, as well as miswak.

    The european equivalent is thyme – incredibly effective as bacteriocide against oral bacteria and active ingredient is essential oil thymol which is still used in lab as bacteriocide. Eucalyptus oil is even more effective and though not native to UK grows in milder regions. Again, used in labs still.

    It is a detail perhaps worth noting that Muslim and Sufi herbalists,and possibly more progressive western medics, say that medicines are more effective in their natural botanic form as the other components naturally present contribute to their effectiveness.

    There is a toothpaste made by Johnson and Johnson which contains both oils, but how halal it is I couldnt say – glycerine can be made different ways, one way from animal fats.

  13. AbudulRahman789

    1. A more sophisticated title would have been: “Maintaining Oral Hygiene During Ramadhan”, rather than the trashy one that was used.

    2. I woould have welcomed some discourse on whether it is allowed to brush with tooth brush and tooth paste. I know there is a difference of opinion on this but I would have liked this discussed. I know the late Sheikh Darsh was of this opinion.

    3. I am interested to know whether there is an equivalent tree in this part of the world (UK) which can be used as a mishwak, having similar properties.

    4. Keep up the excellent work. This website is a very classy effort. May Allah reward the team involved. Not only does it have style, but it has substance also.

  14. links to thesis on Miswak
    Please share the paper references links and pdfs of the papers on this.

    I contribute one link
    AH Sofrata – 2010 –
    As Salvadora persica (Arak) is one of the most important species still used around the world, …… Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 7, 1091-100. …

  15. Swami Tota Ram Shankar

    Please provide download links to the western papers and saudi paper on Miswak
    Please provide download links to the western papers and saudi paper on Miswak

    so I can read it first hand.

  16. Excellent
    Salaam akhi Abdul Jabbar

    I think this is a fantastic article. I beg to differ with the other readers that your article lacked islamic references. I know you are a dentist by profession, and you were just talking about the issue of bad breath from a scientific perspective. We as Muslims cannot reject science. Whilst there is a lot of ‘shoddy’ research going around and questionable theories, we should take from that which is good. Your article has done that well alhumdulillah. We as an Ummah need to be well versed in the language of science, as this is the language most people speak nowadays. We need to once again become leaders in our scientific fields, as currently Muslims are really lagging behind when it comes to research. I hope you will continue to write more Dental reviews with an islamic flavour. May Allah reward you abundantly for your efforts. Ameen. Your brother, Sameer.

  17. Faraz Choudhry

    I’m convinced
    A potential replacement for the toothbrush and paste, and maybe floss? At least I’m convinced that miswaak can be reused without worrying about staleness and bacterial attacks.

  18. Mashallah
    Asalam waliekum warahmatullahi wabarakatu

    Mashallah very important and beneficial Article which i will do my best to implement. I was so happy when i read about the Wrigley Company Research and it will be very good if you please get us the source of this research that took place.

  19. Mohammed Ashik

    MM article on Ramadan fragrances….
    As-salaamu alaikum.
    Jazakallah khaiyr for the article.

    A really good reminder (related) on MM: Ramadan Fragrances: Of Body Odors and Perfumes & the Person Praying Besides You

    By the way, using mouthwash after suhoor/just before fajr is an excellent way to help with morning breath.

  20. Bad Breath……sorry this article is not good.
    Assalam alayekum,
    I really love most of your articles as they seem to real bring out the true islamic spirit. Unfortunately this one is really off…..

  21. Good & Infomational, Plese revise.
    “Bad breath seems to be more potent when fasting due to the dryness of the mouth. To reduce this it would be recommended to drink plenty of fluids during the evening and suhur time”

    This article was somehow conflicting with Ramadan. I found difficult to reference Ramadan in this article. I think it would have been appropriate to not mention Ramadan(fasting) in this article. As this information might mislead and misguide some people. This information was neither for or against Ramadan but was referable to Ramadan in, which then will conflict with the statement above.

    Thank you

  22. The article lacks islamic sources
    The article lacks Islamic sources. majority of the article source are from the kuffar

  23. Bad breath?
    Asalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu

    What about this hadith?
    “The odor that comes from the mouth of the fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the scent of musk” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

    Unfortunately this article lacks any reference to Islamic sources.

  24. Siwaak
    ”So we would have to agree that using miswak is both rewardable and effective.”
    Research makes us agree on the effectiveness of the miswaak. What a shame. Our Messenger has narrated to us that it’s a ‘cleanser for the mouth and pleasing to the Lord’. Was the Hadith quoted? No, we believe in research.

  25. intelligence?!
    The people you described are the opposite of intelligent. The money that they have is not a result of their intelligence or hard work, it’s a result of inherited wealth and social status, plus misuse of the resources that should be spent on alleviating poverty and contributing to regional development. And since when are eating and drinking and womanizing marks of intelligence or any degree of having an enlightened mind? Fasting teaches us to deny our base desires and to control ourselves and our gluttonous impulses. 100%, the reason those people were not fasting wasn’t a result of any sort of intellectual conviction “that this religious nonsense was an utter waste of time and was good for the masses,” it’s because they are slaves to their worldly desires and their stomachs. Seriously, what is there to respect about that?

    • I agree with u 100% muslimah, i’ve only read this now and i couldnt have said it better myslf. Wht and idiot this guy is and calling himself intelligent, he’s quite the opposite.if he was really intelligent he will be preparing for the hereafter.

  26. Ramadan advice
    I was a pilot in Kuwait. All 20 or so executive jets based there were flying around during Ramadan as their owners were eating, drinking and womanising. These people had the intelligence to earn lots of money and the intelligence to realise that this religious nonsense was an utter waste of time and was good for the masses.

  27. [quote]Saliva is the natural mouthwash we were born with. It contains antibacterial agents, and competes with bacteria for scarce resources such as iron. Saliva helps wash the bacteria from the mouth, and the saliva layer helps the oral odours from escaping. Bad breath is worst when there is little or no saliva flow, for example after a night’s sleep. As soon as one wakes up and starts to salivate, the smell recedes.[/quote]

    “Let your tongue always be moist with the remembrance of Allah.” [at-Tirmidhi and others]

  28. Informative
    Very nice article, should post it on wikipedia

  29. Good article, some advice..
    Good article mashaAllah, the recommended time for brushing is in fact 2 minutes not 4.

    An interesting fact that Sh Salim mentioned in a lecture; RasoolAllah sallAllahu’alayhi wa sallam used to brush his tongue with the miswak, to the extent that he was gagging- indicating that he brushed right to the back of the tongue.

    ‘Cleaning of the spaces between the teeth is of great importance’- this is something that the majority of people are ignorant of. You should use floss or interdental brushes (available in different sizes), so speak to your dentist about interdental cleaning and they will guide you as to what to use and how to use it.

    ‘Regular visits to the dentist are also essential although we may not enjoy them’ Dental disease, be it decay or gum disease can go unnoticed and one may be symptom-free, until it reaches a stage where it is irreversible and extensive treatment has to be carried out to save the teeth. Visit the dentist every 6 months regardless of whether you have any pain! Your dentist may increase your recall interval to 12 month check-ups if they deem necessary.

    Wassalaamu’alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

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