Bad breath can be preserved for centuries
halitosis can be a problem as long as you live. Bacteria grow in the mouth, particularly when it is dry or filled with food particles, and give off sulfuric odor compounds. But it isn’t an issue after you’re gone - except in the case of Thomas Edison, who preserved his bad breath for posterity.
The inventor or developer of motion pictures, phonographs and the light bulb, Edison famously drove himself to work long hours, leaving little room for personal hygiene. The day after his death, fellow inventor Nikola Tesla wrote that he “lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene.” Among other things, Edison did not take much care to freshen his breath.
In his diary, Edison recalls smoking cigars, which can leave the mouth smelling pungent and stale. One entry from a vacation to Boston Harbor reads - “Smoked a cigar under the alias of Reina Victoria. Think it must have been seasoned in a sewer.” Tar and tobacco particles from smoking can stick to the tongue and teeth, linger in the lungs and cause tooth decay.
He also may have followed a popular diet in his later years that involved drinking nothing but milk up to eight times a day. Milk breath can be similarly smelly.
Even if Edison didn’t follow the dairy regimen, he assuredly skipped plenty of meals, as recorded in a 1930 issue of Reader’s digest, published a year before his death. His second wife, Mina, swore that "correct eating is one of his greatest hobbies,” but noted that he often missed lunch and dinner when in his workshop. Skipping meals can dry the palate, giving anaerobic oral bacteria a chance to flourish and emit sulfuric compounds as a byproduct of their digestion.
Even his cause of death may have left Edison with bad breath. He died in 1931 from complications of diabetes, a disorder known to cause halitosis. According to the Straight Dope, before his death, Edison’s friend Henry Ford convinced the inventor’s son to hold an open test tube next to the man’s mouth.
It was corked, sealed and saved, and may be found today at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Whether it contains good or bad breath is unclear. Readers can make an educated guess.
To prevent halitosis, individuals today can use what Edison never had access to - specialty breath fresheners that moisten the mouth and remove odorous compounds that cause bad breath.