Bad breath blues
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By Zureena Habib
Many people who suffer from bad breath find it an embarrassing condition. If the numbers are any
indication, there must be a whole lot of embarrassed people around.
An estimated 35 per cent of the world's population suffer from halitosis, more commonly known as
bad breath, according to Dr Tan Shuh Chern of White Dental Group, who has 10 years of experience
in treating this problem. He runs a 'bad breath clinic' in Singapore.
What makes such a clinic different from other dental surgeries? Dr Tan is equipped with a special
machine called a hallimeter which measures bad breath.
A patient who wants to address this problem will have to fill in a questionnaire that will help the dentist
determine the sources of his bad breath.
Keeping bad breath at bay can be as simple as going for a routine dental check-up as untreated
cavities and gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, are often the causes.
Another likely cause of bad breath is volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs), said DrTan.
VSCs are produced by bacteria in the oral cavity and can survive with little or no oxygen. In fact,
oxygen helps to neutralise VSC production and this keeps halitosis away.
Saliva has high oxygen content, so making sure you do not have a dry mouth is essential for solving
the problem. This is one of the reasons why drooling babies do not have bad breath.
'The precautions against bad breath are as simple as drinking water and eating breakfast in the morning,
' Dr Tan said. These activities stimulate salivary glands and can help neutralise the odour produced by VSCs.
Brushing your tongue may also help as bacteria tend to get into the grooves and fissures on the tongue.
Caffeine, smoking and alcohol increase the production of acid in the mouth, allowing VSC-producing
bacteria to thrive.
Foods like onions and garlic are full of sulphur compounds and can worsen the problem.
Diagnosing bad breath involves running a series of breath tests which can determine how serious
the problem really is.
These tests are painless and involve blowing into a hallimeter, which is used to quantify the amount
of volatile sulphur compounds in your mouth.
If the hallimeter reading is found to be normal and VSCs are not to blame, then an organoleptic test can
be done. This involves the dentist using his olfactory senses to determine the source of the patient's
To get rid of bad breath, mouthwashes that contain oxy-8 - a compound high in oxygen content that
neutralises sulphurs - are usually prescribed by dentists.
'Many over-the-counter mouthwashes are made just to mask the smell and also contain alcohol
which can increase acid production in the mouth and worsen the problem,' warned Dr Tan.
This story was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times, on Nov 13, 2008.