It’s hard to make the case that bad breath could ever be a boon to anyone. After all, we’re talking about the kind of lingering dental odor that can offend coworkers, irritate fellow bus passengers, strain relationships or even ward off potential suitors. Yet just this past Leap Day, news sources nationwide announced that, in at least one situation, halitosis might actually help rather than harm.
Consider this headline from MSNBC’s The Body Odd: “This Is the Only Time Bad Breath Is a Good Thing.” Or this one from BBC News, which reveals a little bit more about what’s at issue here: “Chemical in Bad Breath ‘Influences’ Dental Stem Cells.”
It’s time we got to the bottom of this. Is there ever a time when bad breath is good for you?
Well, if there is, it doesn’t have anything to do with stem cells. As you can see from the BBC headline above, it isn’t so much oral odor that’s making news, so much as a single compound found in halitosis that’s being used for the greater good. Here’s the 411.
This all started when the Journal of Breath Research published a new study written by researchers from Japan’s Nippon Dental University. The paper discusses the uses of hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, the organic chemical that makes bad breath smell a little like rotten eggs.
The majority of the H2S in your body comes from the bacteria in your mouth, which emit the stink compound into the air you exhale. Your cells also use a tiny amount of H2S to relax involuntary muscles and dilate blood vessels.
However, for the most part, this gas doesn’t belong in your blood in any significant quantity. In fact, in high doses – say, 200,000 times the level found in even the stinkiest halitosis – H2S is lethal, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
So how is H2S a good thing? According to the new study, it helps turn dental stem cells into liver cells.