When someone has especially strong bad breath, it is common to say that they have "dragon breath," since it can seem like their halitosis is almost strong enough to peel paint or set the room on fire. But could this ever really happen, under any conditions? Is bad breath flammable?
Though there are thousands of different molecules to be found in every breath you take, the ones tinge that your mouth with a funky smell are known collectively as volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs).
In his book Secrets to Curing Bad Breath Now!, author Sam Harrison explains that the VSCs you exhale are not "volatile" in the sense that they are unstable or explosive. Instead, these compounds merit that adjective because they evaporate easily, meaning that if they are in your mouth, they are likely to escape on your breath.
When the bacteria on your tongue multiply and digest food particles, they give off VSCs, leading to halitosis. Traditional mints and toothpastes do not get rid of this smell because they do not neutralize these compounds the way specialty breath fresheners do.
Are VSCs combustible? In a sense, yes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that hydrogen sulfide, perhaps the number-one odor molecule in halitosis, is "highly flammable." However, the agency is referring to levels of the gas millions of times more concentrated than what is in your dragon breath.
On whole, then, halitosis is not flammable. If it were, you would burn your eyebrows off every time you blew out a match or snuffed a candle.
Even so, it is important to target VSCs whenever possible, if only to ensure that your friends and co-workers can stand to be around you. Using a specialty breath freshening rinse or an oral care probiotics kit is an effective way to minimize oral odor.
That way, you can slay your dragon breath regardless of how fiery it is.
But wait! While it is unreliable, a secondhand account of exploding bad breath exists, published in 1886 in the journal Items of Interest.
A patient complained of having smelly belches and, one morning, of getting a surprise while blowing out a match.
"My breath caught fire and gave a loud report like the crack of a pistol. It burnt my lips, and they are still a little sore," the individual is quoted as saying.
The author then explains that "carburetted hydrogen" - that is, methane - may have been to blame.