Medical Mysteries

Bad breath? Do a self-test to find out

Written by Fred Hilton
Writer: Fred Hilton

The tell-tale signs often are obvious: Your first dates rarely turn into second dates. When you join the crowd around the cooler at work, you take a sip of water and discover there’s no longer anybody there but you and your paper cup.

You figure you have a problem with bad breath, but how can you be sure? You probably think you can easily check your own breath by cupping your hand, blowing into it, and taking a whiff. Sorry, but that won’t work.

“It is very difficult for people to smell their own breath because a person becomes acclimated to their own breath, or, in other words, they get used to it so they don’t notice it anymore,” according to the website BreathMD. “Our brains are designed wisely and have us become acclimated to smells so we can notice new smells easier.”

Probably the best way to check your breath is to ask someone else—maybe your spouse, significant other, or a good friend. If you don’t want to do that, there are several methods of self-testing. Among them are:

• Wipe the top surface of your tongue with a piece of cotton gauze and smell it. If you notice a yellowish stain on the cotton, it’s likely that you have an elevated sulfide production level.

• Lick the back of your hand. Let the saliva dry for five or 10 seconds and then smell your hand. If there is an odor, it may be because the sulfur salts from your tongue have been transferred to your hand after the liquid evaporated.

• Run a piece of dental floss between your back teeth, where food is most likely to be caught. Smell the floss. It can indicate the odors others detect.

• Stand in front of the mirror and stick your tongue out. If you notice that the back of your tongue is whitish, it may be a sign you have bad breath. You also can use a spoon to scrape some of the gunk off the back of your tongue. Put the scrapings in a baggie and let it sit under a lamp for 10 or 15 minutes. Then open the bag and take a whiff.

If you’re really obsessed, there are two scientific devices—the gas chromatograph and the halimeter—that are used for breath-testing.

If you don’t want to fool with any of these tests, just stay downwind from everyone else.

“Test Your Own Breath,” by Dr. Harold Katz, TheraBreath,
“How to Tell if You Have Bad Breath. Self-testing for Halitosis,”
“How to Smell Your Own Breath,” BreathMD,
“How to Tell if You Have Bad Breath,” by Amy Freeman, Colgate Oral Care Center,
“10 Ways to Know You Have Bad Breath,” by Darren Martin,


About the author

Fred Hilton

Fred Hilton spent thirty-six years as the chief public relations officer/spokesman for James Madison University in Virginia and ten years prior as a reporter and editor for The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia. He is now happily retired in The Villages with his interior designer wife, Leta, their Cadillac Escalade golf cart, and their dog, Paris. (Yes, that makes her Paris Hilton).

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