4 Smelly Ways to Test for Bad Breath
May 02 2015
Bad breath, more formally known as halitosis, is an unpleasant condition which causes the exhaled breath of the sufferer to have a noticeably bad odour. It is the third most common reason why people visit the dentist (behind tooth decay and gum disease) and affects roughly one in every five people.
The most straightforward way to avoid bad breath is to practice good dental hygiene. This means brushing your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day (and preferably after every meal), chewing sugar-free gum and using special mouthwashes. But how do you know if you have bad breath in the first place? Here are four different methods of testing for halitosis – with varying levels of accuracy – which are in use today.
The Sniff Test
The most common form of testing for bad breath (and the most unreliable) is simply by smelling it. However, this doesn’t involve breathing into your cupped hand and sniffing it afterwards – this will simply allow you to smell your hand. Instead, you could try licking your palm (as far back on the tongue as possible) or better yet, scraping a plastic spoon along the back of your tongue to pick up bacteria that is present there.
This can be uncomfortable and imprecise, but can give you a rough idea of how badly you suffer from the condition. It should be noted that such a test is not conclusive, though, since chemicals in mouthwashes and other cosmetics, as well as items such as coffee and tobacco, can tamper with the results.
A more scientific means of testing for bad breath is the halimeter. Since we know that bad breath is derived from the compounds hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan and dimethyl sulphide (all of which are volatile sulphur compounds), it is possible to simply test for the presence of those three.
While the Halimeter is a much more accurate way of testing than the sniff test, it only measures general levels of sulphide gases. As such, it can’t tell you which particular compound is present in your mouth, making it more different to plan treatment effectively.
The BANA test
Another way of detecting the bacterial compounds listed above is through the use of the BANA test. This works by combining samples of saliva from the subject with the compound benzoyl-DL-arginine-naphthylamide (BANA). Enzymes present in certain forms of bacteria found in the mouth will react with the BANA solvent and turn it a bluish colour.
While the BANA test is a quick and fairly cheap option to discover whether or not someone suffers from bad breath, it is really only capable of delivering a “yes” or “no” answer. Therefore, for those who have some bacteria in their mouth but not an alarming amount, the BANA test does not provide concrete answers.
By far the most accurate method of measuring bad breath, gas chromatography will separate out each of the compounds in the gas sample given by the subject and individually analyse and identify them. Because of this, it is highly useful in pinpointing exactly which malodorous compounds are to blame and allows the dentist to plan treatment accordingly.
The widespread use of chromatography to detect for bad breath remains unfeasible, due to the expensive and immobile equipment involved and the level of training needed by its users. However, there is a happy medium solution – the Oral Chroma. This device only searches for the presence of the three bacteria listed above, making it far more affordable and lightweight than traditional chromatography apparatus. As such, chromatography could be the way of the future when it comes to diagnosing halitosis.
Searching for more than Bad Breath
Indeed, gas chromatography is not only valuable when detecting bad breath – it also has the potential to detect diseases. A recent meeting discussed the potential ability to detect lung cancer from breath samples, the advantages of which could be incredible in terms of catching the disease early, avoiding invasive procedures and saving expenditure.
Meanwhile, the article Chromatography is a Breath of Fresh Air for Drug Testing talks about the potential of replacing urine analysis with the less invasive breathalyser test. The procedure could be used in sports doping, in police checks and in the workplace.
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