How are you supposed to tell when you have halitosis? It doesn't come naturally, or else we'd never offend each other with our rotten breath. So what are you supposed to do? Our very own Dr. Katz recently explained how to determine if you have oral odor.
He told the newspaper The Hindu that breathing into your palms and then inhaling might work, but that you can't count on it. For one thing, much of the breath that you exhale into your cupped hands will escape out the sides and between your fingers. This means that with palm-breathing, your nose doesn't get a very accurate sniff of the odor molecules coming from your tongue.
Also, noses aren't perfect. Some people have a fairly weak sense of smell to begin with. Others may have nasal allergies, sinus trouble or post-nasal drip that makes it hard to smell anything at all.
Finally, halitosis can contaminate the air in your nasal passages. If you have bad breath, chances are that some of the air in your mouth naturally rises up through your nose. If you already have odor molecules floating about in your sniffer, you won't smell anything different when you take a whiff of your own breath. In effect, our noses get used to the smell of our breath in the same way our ears are accustomed to the sounds of chewing and swallowing.
Fortunately, Dr. Katz had plenty of suggestions for determining how bad your breath really is. Try to:
- Check out your tongue. Open your mouth in front of the mirror, stick out your tongue and say "Ahhhh." Is it pink and clean? Or is it whitish or yellowish and covered with scum? If it's the latter, you can bet your bottom dollar that you have bad breath. The white stuff consists of billions of odor-causing microbes. "Think of your tongue as a shaggy carpet and your mouth as a mobile chemistry lab," Dr. Katz told the news source. "Bacteria found in the mouth get trapped under the surface of the tongue and cause bad breath."
- Lick your hand. It may sound silly or gross, but it beats not knowing you have halitosis. If you suspect your breath is bad, subtly lick your wrist or the back of your hand. Make sure no one's looking! (Consider doing it in a cubicle or bathroom stall where you'll have some privacy.) Now smell the spot you licked. If it has an odd odor, you may need to get yourself some specialty breath freshening products.
- Scrape your tongue. Using a specialty tongue cleaner, a length of dental floss or even a white plastic spoon, lightly scrape the back of your tongue. If it comes up covered in white or yellow goo, then you're almost certainly suffering from serious oral odor. To get rid of it, start by gargling with an alcohol-free, oxygenating mouthrinse. Afterwards, consider taking daily oral care probiotics to keep odor-causing bacteria to a minimum.
- Use a cotton swab. If you don't have anything to scrape your tongue with, try rubbing a cottonball or swab on the back of your tongue. If it comes back stained yellow, you know you have bad breath. To be sure, sniff the cotton to see if it has an odor.
- Blow up a balloon. Not the subtlest trick out there, but it works: Blow up a balloon, and then give yourself a good whiff of what comes out of it. This method is best done at home, not in front of your co-workers!