Halitosis is a term used to describe noticeably unpleasant odours exhaled in breathing.

Scientists have long thought that smelling one’s own breath odour is often difficult due to acclimatization, although many people with bad breath are able to detect it in others. Research has suggested that self-evaluation of halitosis is not easy because of preconceived notions of how bad we think it should be. Some people assume that they have bad breath because of bad taste, however bad taste is considered a poor indicator.

For these reasons, the simplest and most effective way to know whether one has bad breath is to ask a trusted adult family member or very close confidant. If the confidant confirms that there is a breath problem, he or she can help determine whether it is coming from the mouth or the nose, and whether a particular treatment is effective or not.

One popular home method to determine the presence of bad breath is to lick the back of the wrist, let the saliva dry for a minute or two, and smell the result. This test results in overestimation, as concluded from research, and should be avoided. A better way would be to lightly scrape the posterior back of the tongue with a plastic disposable spoon and to smell the drying residue. Home tests that use a chemical reaction to test for the presence of polyamines and sulphur compounds on tongue swabs are now available, but there are few studies showing how well they actually detect the odour. Furthermore, since breath odour changes in intensity throughout the day depending on many factors, multiple testing sessions may be necessary.

A Woman’s Mouth Decorated with Lipstick

If bad breath is persistent, and all other medical and dental factors have been ruled out, specialized testing and treatment is required. Hundreds of dental offices and commercial breath clinics now claim to diagnose and treat bad breath. They often use some of several laboratory methods for diagnosis of bad breath:

Halimeter: a portable sulphide monitor used to test for levels of sulphur emissions (to be specific, hydrogen sulphide) in the mouth air. When used properly, this device can be very effective at determining levels of certain (VSC-producing) bacteria.

Gas chromatography: this technology is specifically designed to digitally measure molecular levels of the three major VSCs in a sample of mouth air (hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan, and dimethyl sulphide). It is accurate in measuring the sulfur components of the breath and produces visual results in graph form via computer interface.

BANA test: this test is directed to find the salivary levels of an enzyme indicating the presence of certain halitosis-related bacteria.

β-galactosidase test: salivary levels of this enzyme were found to be correlated with oral malodour.

Although such instrumentation and examinations are widely used in clinics, the most important measurement of bad breath is the actual sniffing and scoring of the level and type of the odour carried out by trained experts. The level of odour is usually assessed on a six-point intensity scale.

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