Diagnosing bad breath

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Breathing into your hand to see if you may have bad breath is futile. One problem associated with bad breath is the inability to self-diagnose. People with a normal sense of smell usually becomes desensitised to the smell of their own bodies. Thus, the majority of individuals with halitosis are often unaware of the problem unless someone else tells them so.

If you believe you suffer from bad breath (halitosis) or show any of the above-mentioned signs, seeing a dentist is the first step towards treatment. When you make an appointment, explain in advance that you will be asking for advice about halitosis.

The dentist can sample the area at the back of the tongue using a plastic spoon, gauze or a spatula. The odour coming from the spoon sample may then be compared to the overall odour. The very back of the tongue is an important source of bad breath.

Also, try to go to the dentist's appointment with someone who is familiar with your problem, to help give the dentist an objective picture of how bad the odour really is, how long it has been going on, and when it improves or gets worse.

Since the character of bad breath often varies, a family member or friend can also help determine whether the odour at the time of the appointment resembles, both in character and intensity, the odour that is generally troublesome.

If the dentist knows that the consultation is about bad breath, you may be asked not to eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, suck sweets, and use mouthwashes or breath fresheners for a period before the appointment.

You should also avoid using perfumed cosmetic products prior to the appointment, since these can interfere with the odour assessment. If the dentist is not told about the reason for the consultation beforehand, take these measures and tell him or her that you have prepared for the appointment in this way.

Your dentist will ask questions to help determine if bacterial activity somewhere in the mouth is responsible.

If the odour comes mostly from the nose, then the nasal passages may be involved, you might be referred to a general practitioner or an ear, nose and throat specialist. 

Read more:

Causes of bad breath  

Preventing bad breath  

Symptoms of bad breath 

Revised and reviewed by Professor Bill Evans, BDS Dip Orth(Witwatersrand). Orthodontist: South African Dental Association and Senior Specialist, Department of Orthodontics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. February 2015.

Previously reviewed by Dr Jeff Michelson, South African Dental Association

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