If you're shy when it comes to asking your physician or dentist about halitosis, it may help to know that diagnosing bad breath used to be a much more involved - and in all likelihood, embarrassing - process than it is now.
A 1939 study published in the Journal of Dental Research (JDR) is a case in point. The report analyzes the use of the osmoscope and the cryoscope in the detection of bad breath. If these terms sound a little outdated, particularly the first one, it's because they are, for the most part.
Today, dental hygienists and halitosis experts use sophisticated gas chromatography to determine the chemical contents of your breath, as well as a device called a halimeter, which detects volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) in the mouth.
However, the osmoscope and the cryoscope were very different. The latter is still included in certain laboratory pursuits. At the time, it was used in the following way. The device consisted of a tube that led into a flask, which was bathed in liquid nitrogen. A patient was asked to blow through the tube for 15 minutes, after which the flask's supercooled contents - which is to say, your breath - would be taken out, heated and smelled. That's it.
The osmoscope operated on an even simpler principle. A sample of breath or saliva would be placed in a test tube. The tube was then stoppered with a cork that had two parallel pipes projecting from it. These pipes ended in a metal nosepiece.
You can probably guess how it worked. The JDR study even includes a pair of handy photographs of doctors dutifully sticking osmoscopes up their noses.
While these methods of bad breath detection may sound primitive, they were quite advanced for their time, judging from the article's introductory historical survey of halitosis diagnoses. The study begins by citing Hippocrates, the so-called Father of Western Medicine, who stated that the nose is often the "true diagnostic guide."
With that in mind, the article points to a 1927 report in the Journal of the American Dental Association, in which researchers test how long oral odor stays in the mouth by chewing onions, not brushing and smelling the breath every hour for up to 16 hours.
Likewise, the same study reportedly was conducted on garlic, which one or two lucky researchers had to repeatedly smell on a participant's breath for 72 straight hours.
Today, a diagnosis of halitosis can be done in minutes at many dental healthcare facilities. Treating halitosis can be done just as quickly, by using a specialty breath freshening rinse or an oral care probiotic kit.