Even though some people get used to it, dog bad breath can still be pretty repulsive. After all, who knows what a pooch was eating before they jumped up and tried to kiss you? For that matter, who knows what your friends and family eat to give them halitosis? Diet can have a profound effect on how bad one's breath gets, which may explain why polar bears reportedly have some of the worst oral odor around.
Seriously. According to a recent article written by Dan Rees of the UK Guardian, this vulnerable species of bear can be forgiven its terrible halitosis, given the kind of diet it sticks to. If only these great white mammals could get their formidable paws on a specialty breath freshening rinse...
Rees had the chance to smell polar bear bad breath up close and personal during a recent trip to the Arctic, in the company of Norwegian scientist Jon Aars and famed British naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The mission was not an especially happy one: Rees and company had traveled to Spitzbergen Island to witness firsthand the collapse of the quickly melting Wilkins ice shelf.
This region is home to hundreds of polar bears, one of whom Rees had the chance to see, smell and touch. Here's how Rees described the experience:
"Polar bears have bad breath - really bad - imagine eating nothing but raw seal blubber all your life and never brushing your teeth, and you'll get the idea. I know this because I had my face six inches from the, fortunately anaesthetised, jaws of an adult female bear."
The writer noted that, all halitosis aside, the experience of petting a polar bear was indescribable but left him "uneasy." The same word might apply to anyone who has gotten close enough to smell the bad breath of a bear, or of any other polar denizen for that matter.
Even thousands of years ago, humans knew that bear breath can put dog bad breath to shame. Roman scholar and notable Mt. Vesuvius victim Pliny the Elder stated in his encyclopedia (the first ever written) that "the lion and the bear 'have halitosis,' the bear terribly."
How he came across the information is unclear.
It's doubtful that Pliny or any of his Roman colleagues had ever come across a polar bear, but if they had, they would have undoubtedly included it in the list of animals with serious oral odor.
As pointed out by Rees, polar bears subsist on a diet that is almost tailor-made to generate halitosis. In humans and other mammals, oral bacteria thrive especially when an individual eats a fat- and meat-heavy diet. (Think of the Dukan's diet, which reportedly gives people halitosis that is out of this world.)
One of the few ways that humans can effectively alleviate such oral odor is repeated rinsing with a specialty breath freshener, especially one that is formulated to oxygenate the mouth and neutralize odor compounds.
Alas, polar bears have no access to such things, much less toothbrushes or probiotics. Neither, apparently, do polar explorers, whose diets can engender outrageously bad halitosis.
In his memoir Antarctica 2041, Robert Swan (the first human to walk to both poles) related the story of early polar expeditions, in which men ate nothing but margarine for weeks, due to its high calorie content.
"The resulting halitosis was supposed to be tremendous," he drily noted.
And what about their sled dogs? Did they get dog bad breath? It's uncertain, but their high-fat diet makes it pretty likely that polar pooches get halitosis too.