Bad breath can cause people a lot of anxiety. It is caused by gases that are released in your mouth, which can be smelt by other people at a certain concentration. Dentists like me, who smell people’s breath all day and are perhaps a bit desensitised to it, might not be the best people to judge whether you have bad breath. But we don’t have to – there is a fresh breath machine.
It’s a chromograph called a Halicheck, it was developed by Dr Geoffrey Speiser, and, basically, it measures the levels of some very smelly gases released in the mouth. There are three gases it measures – hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan and dimethyl sulphide.
Hydrogen sulphide is a gas released from plaque, and it smells of rotten eggs
The second gas that can be released is the methyl mercaptan, and it smells of faeces
The third one is dimethyl sulphide and it’s at the back of your throat and in your nasal passages and sinuses, it smells like rotting cabbage
With these sorts of gases emanating from patients’ mouths, it’s no wonder they attend my clinic wondering how to get rid of bad breath.
The bad breath machine
Yesterday I used it on a woman—a long-term patient I’ve been seeing for seven or eight years—and her reading indicated that hydrogen sulphide was present in levels of over a thousand parts per billion. The ‘smell level’, the threshold level at which you can smell someone’s breath, is 112 parts per billion. She was over ten times that concentration.
So the machine was telling me she had bad breath. As a dentist who works with mouth smells all day, I have to confess that I hadn’t noticed it, which was probably a good thing for me.
After we gave her a clean we did the test again and she had dropped down to a hundred parts per billion. This tenfold drop demonstrates how effective a professional clean can be in the fight against bad breath. It’s a significant difference.
How the levels of gas will build up again will depend on the person, but what I say to them is, if you want to know how to get rid of bad breath, you know what to do. You know what clean feels like, so we’ve got to work out now, person-to-person, what you need to maintain this. It all comes back to clean, healthy teeth.
What causes it?
The most common cause of bad breath is plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria on your teeth, and it releases that first gas I mentioned—the hydrogen sulphide. As the hydrogen sulphide builds in your mouth, so too does the concentration of gas it releases.
Lifestyle elements will add to that layer and make it worse. So whether you’re smoking, or whether you are drinking a lot of coffee or wine, for example, those things will add to that layer of bacteria resulting in a very pungent smell. The Halicheck can pick up the levels of smelly gas your mouth is emitting, telling your dentist what might need to be done to help get rid of your bad breath.
What you can do about it
If you’re concerned about breath, make an appointment to come in and have your breath tested