Self diagnosis of bad breath

Dr. Mel Rosenberg

19.03.08, 10:56

Scientists have long thought that smelling one's own breath odor is often difficult as a result of habituation, although many people with bad breath are able to detect it in others. Research has suggested that self-evaluation of halitosis isn't easy because of preconceived notions of how bad we think it should be. Some people assume that they have bad breath due to bad taste (metallic, sour, fecal, etc), however bad taste has been shown in research to be a poor indicator.

For these reasons, the simplest and most effective way to know whether one has bad breath is to ask a trusted adult family member or very close friend ("confidant"). If the confidant confirms that there is a breath problem, he or she can help determine whether it is coming from the mouth or the nose, and whether a particular treatment is effective or not.

One popular home method to determine the presence of bad breath is to lick the back of the wrist, let the saliva dry for a minute or two, and smell the result. However, research shows that this test results in overestimation, and should be avoided. A better way would be to lightly scrape the posterior back of the tongue with a plastic disposable spoon and to smell the drying residue. A spouse, family member, or close friend may be willing to smell one's breath and provide honest feedback. Home tests are now available which use a chemical reaction to test for the presence of polyamines and sulfur compounds on tongue swabs, but there are only few studies showing how well they actually detect the odor. Furthermore, since breath odor changes in intensity throughout the day depending on many factors, multiple testing may be required.

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