Halitosis: What it is, who has it and what to do about it
Taking care of your halitosis can be difficult if you don't know its causes. Given the sheer number of forms that bad breath comes in - garlic breath, morning breath, coffee breath, smoker's breath, alcohol breath and many more - it's little wonder that some people have no idea where to begin treating their oral odor. Fortunately, researchers are making inroads into the condition's causes and treatments.
Many healthcare experts are aware that volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) lend halitosis the bulk of its funky smell. However, while dentists and oral hygienists may check the mouth for the presence of hydrogen sulfide - the VSC most commonly associated with bad breath - a study published in the Journal of Chromatography B indicates that many more molecules are present in the oral environment.
Researchers from Belgium's Catholic University of Leuven used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the chemical composition of normal and bad breath. The team took its samples from 40 healthy adults, all of whom reported no significant problems other than morning breath.
The group found that beyond hydrogen sulfide, volunteers' mouths tended to contain acetone, 2-butanone, 2-pentanone, 1-propanol and indole, all of which are aromatic molecules with particular scents.
Acetone, which is used in nail polish remover, has a familiar, pungent smell. The body naturally produces the molecule, although excess amounts of it may indicate a protein-heavy diet or pancreatic problems. Or take indole - in tiny amounts, the chemical can smell a little like flowers, but higher concentrations smell like something is rotting.
If even healthy adults have all sorts of smelly, non-VSC compounds in their mouths, than does everyone essentially have bad breath all the time? They do, and they don't.
A group of oral health researchers from the University of Bern recently conducted a survey to see how many people report having halitosis versus how many actually have oral odor.
The team asked 419 adults to rate their breath, after which scientists measured VSC levels in samples of exhaled air. All told, 32 percent of questionnaire respondents thought they had halitosis.
How many actually had it? According to halimeter readings, a very similar 28 percent.
Among other things, this research indicates that if you think you suffer from bad breath, chances are you do. rather than waiting to be told by a physician, dentist, friend or family member that your breath stinks, it may be best to take some preventative measures against oral odor.
Besides brushing and flossing regularly, individuals with halitosis may consider using a tongue scraper, a specialty breath freshening rinse and an oral care probiotic kit to keep bacteria and VSCs at a minimum.