Bad Breath Generates Weird Science, Odd Research

One of the perks of being a bad breath expert is that you get to monitor the state of halitosis research. While in other fields it might be boring to read hundreds of studies and sift through reams of data, for me there’s nothing better than hunkering down with the latest investigations into the causes of and treatments for oral odor. That’s because bad breath occasionally generates some seriously weird research.

Consider everyone’s favorite new study: Recently, researchers at the UK’s University of Cranfield partnered with French fromage experts in order to find the world’s stinkiest cheeses. After sniffing and eating samples from dozens of candidates (and presumably, getting some of the worst halitosis on Earth), the judges declared a winner – Vieux Boulogne, a French cheese with a rind soaked in beer. The variety is so smelly that it beat out Pont l’Eveque (known to stain entire fridges with its scent) and Camembert (a cheese affectionately nicknamed “God’s Feet”).

And if nose-based judging is a little too subjective for your taste, you’re in luck. Researchers later verified their findings by using a specially equipped electronic sensor. Once again, Vieux Boulogne reigned supreme as the King of Oral Odor.

If you think that cheese-based scientific inquiry is a bit unusual, wait until you get a load of a study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology. In it, a pair of dental hygienists from Hebrew University theorized that we might be able to use blue light to kill bad breath.

This is an over-simplified reading of the study, though. In reality, the duo came to a conclusion that doesn’t really sound applicable to humans. They found that if they put fermented saliva in a Petri dish and exposed it to high-watt xenon bulbs for up to four minutes, the mix’s halitosis-like odor seemed to dissipate. Researchers warned that this kind of treatment could seriously harm a person, but that didn’t stop Men’s Health from recommending that you change the lights in your bathroom to blue bulbs. So, yeah…don’t do that. It won’t work.

Neither will trying yoga for bad breath – at least, not in a direct way. Several new studies have suggested that meditating or doing yoga might help ease halitosis. Unlike the blue-bulb theory, there’s a grain of truth to this one. Yoga doesn’t have a direct effect on your oral odor, but it does help you relax. Since anxiety can dry out your mouth, then easing stress might actually help your salivary glands produce more moisture. Sucking on a mouth-wetting lozenge can also do the trick. And as the Mayo Clinic points out, breathing through your nose (as is common in yoga) can also help reduce your risk of bad breath.

Speaking of your nose, much hay has recently been made over the use of neti pots to treat halitosis. If these devices sound familiar, it may be because they made headlines in December 2011, when two Louisiana residents died from being infected with Naegleria fowleri, the so-called “brain-eating bacteria.” This microbe can only infect humans through the nose, and neti pots were found to be behind the rare N. fowleri outbreak. To use a neti pot safely, all you need to do is fill it with sterile or previously boiled water, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. And if you’re trying to wash away post-nasal drip, you’re better of trying a specialty breath freshening nasal spray. A sniff or two can radically reduce the drip and eliminate odors.

While we’re talking about sniffing odors, we might mention a few studies that have touched on hydrogen sulfide (H2S). This volatile sulfur compound (VSC) is one of the molecules responsible for giving halitosis its rotten-egg stench. The substance has made appearances in plenty of wild new research, much of it far removed from the clinical world of bad breath.

For instance, NASA’s Terra satellite recently spotted something odd off the coast of southwestern Africa. Using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, the orbiting camera noticed a cloud of heavy gas hanging over the Atlantic just west of Namibia. It turns out that this gas was H2S – tons of it. Complex reactions between currents, wildlife and oxygen-depleted water have pumped loads of H2S into the air there. Reportedly, Namibians are saying the sea breeze smells like bad breath.

And that’s not the only coverage that H2S has gotten this month. Numerous news organizations cranked out headlines like “Halitosis Is Healthy?” and “In This One Case, Bad Breath May Be Good” after this study was released in the journal Science. Basically, researchers found that injecting mice with H2S helped limit the damage caused by simulated heart attacks. This finding holds promise for the future of cardiac emergency care, but it doesn’t vindicate H2S, which will always be the naughty little VSC behind your bad breath. To banish H2S in seconds, just remember that using a specialty breath freshening toothpaste or alcohol-free mouthrinse should do nicely.

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