Ways to test for bad breath.

- Having bad breath is bad enough but not knowing that you do is even worse. This page describes different ways that can be used to check the quality of your breath.

The connection between the mouth and nose.

Odors from your mouth escape to your nose.

Method #1: Self- testing.

Why self- evaluation can be difficult.

It can be difficult for a person to determine if they're expelling offensive breath odor or not. Here's why:

  • Our mouth is connected to our nose by way of an opening back beyond our soft palate.
  • Our nose tends to ignore background odors, like the smell of our mouth coming to it via this pathway.
  • That means it's quite possible, even likely, for a person to have bad breath and not know it, because they literally can't smell it.

How to test your own breath.

There are ways to objectively evaluate yourself but you have to use a slightly indirect method to do it. Here's how.

The anterior part of the tongue.

The tip of the tongue is fairly self-cleansing.

Test #1.

  • Lick your wrist.
  • Wait about five seconds, to let it dry a little.
  • Smell it.

We'll, what do you think? For better or worse, that's the way you smell. Or, more precisely, that's the way the tip end of your tongue smells (its "anterior" portion).

Did you pass this first test?

If your breath problems are fairly minor, you may not be able to detect much of an odor. (That's because this part of the tongue is relatively self-cleansing.)

The posterior part of the tongue.

The back part of the tongue usually harbors debris.

Test #2.

Now, try this second experiment. It will check the odor coming from the back of your tongue (its "posterior" region). This part of the tongue isn't as self-cleansing.

  • Take a small spoon out of your silverware drawer.
  • Turn it upside down, place it at the very, very back of your tongue and draw it forward.
  • Be deliberate but gentle. (Don't be surprised if you find you have an active gag reflex.)

Bacterial debris scraped off a person's tongue.

Smelly debris scraped off the back part of a person's tongue.

Now, take a look at the gunk you've scrapped off. It's usually a thick, whitish (or even brown) goo.

Go ahead and take a whiff of it. Not so bad? Pretty nasty?

That's what you smell like to others.

This smell, as opposed to the sampling from the anterior portion of your tongue, is probably the way your breath smells to other people. And if you haven't been cleaning the back portion of your tongue, it may be pretty foul.

So, now you know. The fundamental cause of bad breath is...

As you've just discovered from these experiments, for most people their fundamental cause of breath odors is the whitish coating that covers the surface of the posterior portion of their tongue. (More accurately, it's the bacteria that live in this coating.)

Method #2: Get someone else's opinion.

Another way to check your breath is an obvious one. Just ask someone else what they think.

Actually, this isn't such a bad plan and it's generally considered the most reliable way to confirm a chronic breath problem.

[There is a condition termed pseudo-halitosis where a person is under the impression that they have an odor problem but really don't, or at least not to the extent they think they do.

So especially in cases like these, asking the opinion of someone else can be valuable in helping to ground mistaken impressions and fears.]

Who makes a good person to ask?

  • Obviously, if you have a significant other, they make a good candidate.
  • Bring up the subject with your dentist or hygienist at your next appointment. After all, evaluating the status of your oral health is their job. Hopefully they'll also have some solutions to offer.
  • If even that is too personal, maybe just ask a kid. Sometimes the least inhibited and most honest answers come from young children.

Read on ... about scientific testing for bad breath.

Or skip ahead ...

Jump to our next page that explains what the odors you smell are and where they come from. After all, until you know that you won't be able to cure your problems.


Method #3: How research studies measure halitosis.

( Related page: Bad breath classifications. )

Before a study can evaluate the effectiveness of a cure, it must have a way to test for and quantify its subjects' oral odors. Here are some of the ways this is done.

a) Gas chromatography.

A gas chromatograph is a scientific apparatus that can identify and precisely measure compounds found in tested samples. The use of one of these machines for breath testing is considered to be the gold standard.

While being the most precise method, the use of gas chromatograpy isn't widely used in scientific studies. That's because these machines are relatively expensive, not portable, require special training to operate and require a significant amount of time to make each measurement. It's unlikely that your dentist has one.

b) Halimeters.

A halimeter is a specialized unit that's been specifically designed for breath testing. These machines (first introduced in 1991) measure for levels of sulfide gases. Sulfides, such as hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan (collectively referred to as volatile sulfur compounds or "VSC's"), are known to be causative agents of halitosis.

As a drawback, Halimeters only tests for sulfides as a class and not as individual compounds. (A gas chromatograph provides a much more precise measurement.) Additionally, ethanol (alcohol) and essential oils, both of which are frequently found in mouthwash, can interfere with measurements.

As advantages, a Halimeter requires no special training to use, is portable, measurements can be made quickly and is comparatively inexpensive. Dentist who take a special interest in treating halitosis often have one in their office.

c) The BANA test.

Some of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease (gum disease) produce smelly waste products that also cause bad breath. The BANA test is a simple way a dentist can check for the presence of these bacteria (by testing a sample of their patient's saliva).

The bacteria in question produce an enzyme that degrades the compound benzoyl-D, L-arginine-naphthylamide (abbreviated BANA). When this reaction occurs, it produces a color change in the BANA testing medium.

When measuring low levels of sulfur compounds, this method provides better selectivity and sensitivity than a Halimeter.

d) Organoleptic testing.

This is just a fancy way of saying the tester is using their nose to make a judgment. Historically, organoleptic testing has often been used for studies. That's because noses are readily available, inexpensive to "obtain and operate," and to their credit, they can detect up to 10,000 different smells.

Of course, one obvious problem associated with this method is that it's not totally objective (like a machine is). Another is that certain factors may influence the tester's judgment.

Studies have shown that hunger, head position, degree of attentiveness and level of expectation may influence a judge's evaluation. Also, the subject's consumption of coffee, tea or juice, or the use of tobacco products or scented cosmetics can influence an evaluation too.

Additionally, as mentioned above, when repeatedly exposed to a bad odor a person's sense of smell tends to acclimate to it and therefore loses much of its sensitivity. That means that breath that seems exceedingly objectionable at the beginning of testing may seem quite less so as the evaluation continues.

Our next page explains what the odors you smell are and where they come from. Once you know that, you'll know how to cure your problems.



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