Science Takes Bad Breath Studies to Some Weird, Wild Places
SUMMARY: In the quest to keep bad breath at bay, halitosis experts can (and have) tried all sorts of experiments to see what neutralizes odor-causing bacteria. In fact, all sorts of researchers and experts of every stripe - including chemists, bacteriologists, allergists, psychologists and even...martial arts masters? - are prey to bad breath, so why shouldn't they take a swipe at eliminating it?
Posted: March 19, 2012
In the quest to keep bad breath at bay, halitosis experts can (and have) tried all sorts of experiments to see what neutralizes odor-causing bacteria. In fact, all sorts of researchers and experts of every stripe — including chemists, bacteriologists, allergists, psychologists and even...martial arts masters? — are prey to bad breath, so why shouldn't they take a swipe at eliminating it?
For example, I recently appeared on QVC UK to discuss the inception of my research into the connection between microbes, dry mouth and halitosis. The person who pointed me in the right direction was my daughter, who was 13 years old at the time. She said that her friends kept offering her breath mints and gum after athletic practice, and she knew (smart girl!) that they were tactfully telling her that she had bad breath.
Today, I hear this complaint in breath clinics all the time. The origin of this kind of bad breath is bacteria, since microorganisms are what release the sulfur-based molecules that give halitosis its bad scent. However, I knew there was an underlying problem, and eventually it occurred to me: dry mouth.
Whether or not you're an athlete, you've probably suffered from this problem before. Lots of things can dry out your mouth. Physical activity parches your tongue and palate due to all the panting it requires. But just think of all the other situations that can leave your mouth dry: anxiety, fear of public speaking, mouth-breathing, talking for extended periods of time, smoking, sleeping with your mouth open, using an alcohol-based mouthwash, breathing cold or dry winter air, even having Sjogren's syndrome, which is a fairly rare autoimmune condition that leaves the eyes and mouth chronically dry. (You might recall that tennis star Venus Williams recently announced that she's been diagnosed with it.)
The solution is to use a product that can moisten the mouth, oxygenate the tongue, rinse away bacteria and freshen breath all at once. The History Channel recently called such specialty products a "modern marvel" as part of a special, odor-themed episode of the show of the same name. My daughter's been using these products for years, and she no longer gets offered free gum and mints, that's for sure!
Of course, all this has been bacteriological bad-breath-related news. Other, more far-out fields have recently been touching on the topics of odor, microbes, soaps, allergies and even...cigars? And martial arts masters??
Check out this article about the world's first magnetic soap. The chemical, which researchers nicknamed a "magnetic ionic liquid surfactant," or MILS, was created by "dissolving iron in a range of inert surfactant materials composed of chloride and bromide ions, very similar to those found in everyday mouthwash or fabric conditioner," the team explained.
Apparently, these little iron-filled suds may be great for cleaning up oil spills. It's less clear whether magnetic mouthwash will ever be a reality. Either way, mouthwashes that contain detergents are unlikely to make your breath fresher. In fact, the most common detergent found in cheap rinses, called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), can irritate your gums and lead to canker sores!
However, magnetic molecules may not be the wildest odor-related story to come out this month. This article explored the differences between probiotics and antibiotics. Long story short: the first is simply "good bacteria" that crowd out odor-causing microbes - the second is a category of prescription medicine that is used to fight infections, usually sparingly. And this story touched on how food and air allergies can cause bad breath. They do it in a few surprising ways. For instance, did you know that mild food allergies can lead to odd-smelling breath? (Of course, for people with severe food allergies, halitosis is usually not their biggest problem.) Or that air allergies can cause post-nasal drip, which leads to a nasty oral odor that emanates from your throat?
However, there are two articles that take the cake for the all-out strange application of science to smelly breath.
One article covered Sigmund Freud. Yes, the Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis. What does he have to do with bad breath? Well, as you probably know, Freud was never without a cigar. And according to Cigar Aficionado, the Ur-shrink liked to smoke up to 20 cigars a day. Sadly, Freud ultimately lost a long and painful battle with oral cancer, which is just one more reason to consider keeping that New Year's resolution to give up or cut down on tobacco.
The other article may be even stranger, if such a thing is possible. It's about military-based martial artists. And broken teeth. Plus the risk of bad breath that comes with dental injuries, and the need for more mouthguard use.
It's based on this study, which has the delightful title "Orofacial Injuries and Mouth Guard Use in Elite Commando Fighters." Needless to say, it's a must-read. And what did researchers find out about the world's most dangerous martial artists?
Apparently, three things. (1) They're proud of their broken teeth. (2) They don't like being asked to wear mouthguards. And (3) they really don't like being told they have bad breath.