On January 22, residents from the outskirts of Paris to the shores of Britain frantically called authorities over a foul-smelling gas that was looming in the area. France's Interior Ministry alerted the public that the mercaptan gas that had escaped from the Rouen chemical factory was non-toxic and harmless. Winds in the region blew the smelly cloud across hundreds of square miles, and local governments urged residents to refrain from calling emergency services.
Mercaptan, among other things, is typically an additive to odorless gas to alert people of leaks. It is also the chemical produced by anaerobic bacteria, which causes bad breath. Just imagine, if a leak of mercaptan can cause residents across hundreds of square miles to go on high alert, what is it doing to the person standing next to you? (Did your jaw just fall to the floor?)
What are anaerobic bacteria?
Anaerobic bacteria do not need oxygen to live and are typically found along the gastrointestinal tract. However, an unhealthy mouth can lead to the buildup of anaerobic bacteria because a thick layer - in bacteria terms, this means around 0.1 millimeters - actually becomes free of oxygen. The same thing happens at the back of your throat. Do you ever feel like there is something just sitting there? This is why using a tongue scraper can do wonders.
How does it cause bad breath?
Anaerobic bacteria “eat” the food you put in your system and release volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath. This typically happens when you eat foods that are high in protein such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. You are keeping anaerobic bacteria “alive” when you consume these foods.
Remember when we were talking about mercaptan? Well this is one of the three sulfur compounds that anaerobic bacteria emit (the other two are hydrogen sulfide and dimethyl sulfide). But, scientists have found that mercaptan, also known as methanethiol, is the worst culprit for halitosis.
Why does this happen?
Volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) are present in everyone's mouth, but some people have higher amounts than others. Even if you are maintaining a regular regimen to clean your mouth, it's likely that you aren't getting to the nooks and crannies where bacteria thrive. According to ABC News, there are about 75 to 100 different kinds of germs that live in a person's mouth - we have more bacteria in our mouths than we do cells in our body. Yikes! But it's like a war going on in your mouth versus the good and bad bacteria.
"I think there's a definite smoking gun here - that it's a strong association," researcher Bruce Paster, a senior staff member at The Forsyth Institute in Boston told the publication. "There are the good bacteria and the bad ones. Normal bacteria keep out bacteria from the bad guys."
How to get rid of it
Keeping your mouth fresh and clean is typically the best way to combat and prevent halitosis. This means that you should keep up a good oral health regimen in addition to eating and drinking healthy foods and beverages. Getting rid of anaerobic bacteria in your mouth starts with brushing, flossing and rinsing at least twice a day. If you feel like your breath is exceptionally unpleasant, you should consider working tongue scrapping into your regimen as well. It may seem slightly gross, but this gets rid of that nasty white layer that sits on top of your tongue, which causes bad breath. Do yourself - and everyone around you - a favor and scrape your tongue regularly.