Halitosis is the clinical term for bad breath and, as you’re probably aware, malodorous mouths come in a variety of awful scents. There’s tobacco breath, garlic breath, onion breath—all easily preventable—and then there are the serious scents, all released by decaying matter stuck in your teeth or gums. Foul breath is usually a combination of these gases and chemicals. Rotten-egg breath is created by sulphur compounds. Decaying-fish breath comes from a chemical called cadaverine, the same scent dead bodies give off. Methyl mercaptan smells like rotten cabbage. Isovaleric acid smells like sweaty feet. If your breath smells like decaying meat you’ve got putrescine in your mouth, and finally, probably the worst of all: skatole will make your breath smell like poo.
Bad breath has some scary causes, like infections, diabetes, kidney failure, liver malfunction, and metabolic disorders, but it usually comes from the food you eat or–your dentist was right!–poor oral hygiene. When you dine on stinky snacks with garlic or onion, the food is absorbed into your blood and transferred to your lungs. Every time you breathe: onion breath! Brushing your teeth, chewing gum, or using mouthwash will only mask the odour until your body fully digests and eliminates the culprit. Of course, your dentist won’t complain if you eat smelly foods. It’s neglecting your oral hygiene habits that will not only make your dentist cringe, but keep your kissing prospects away. Bacterial plaque and bits of food can get caught on the back of your tongue and thrive on protein and low-oxygen environments (not sugar like the cavity-producing bacteria on your teeth). So mouth breathers beware! Sucking air with an open jaw, which dries out your tongue, may exacerbate your halitosis. As the bacteria grows, it releases the awful scents and chemicals listed above. These chemicals can also be a result of food and bacteria stuck between your teeth–that’s why you’re told to floss daily!
You know that other people can tell when you have bad breath. They often offer gum, cover their nose, or just run in the other direction, but how can you catch on before they do? Lick your wrist. No, really. Stick your tongue out as far as you can and lick your wrist, wait a few seconds, then take a whiff. Alternately, and even grosser, you can stick your finger into your mouth to the back of your tongue and gently scratch the surface. Again, wait a couple of seconds and have a sniff. To understand just how important it is to brush and floss regularly, take a spoon and scrape the back of your tongue. You’ll get a chance to actually see the putrid problem–a yellowish mucous material made up of all those bacteria and germs living in your mouth.
Hali-heck do I get rid of it?
To make sure your mouth smells sweet, brush your teeth! And while you’re at it, brush your gums and your tongue and floss at least once a day. Think about what you’ve eaten, then imagine it stuck and decaying in the crevices in your mouth–makes you want to floss, doesn’t it? Another way to prevent putrid breath is chewing cinnamon-based gum. While most gums and mints will just cover the unpleasant scent, like a deodorant for your mouth, an American study showed that cinnamon gum actually killed 40 percent of bad-breath germs.