Smell your own breath

Bad breath is the worst: It ends dates, ruins job interviews and makes it virtually impossible for anyone to focus on the actual words coming out of your mouth. What’s extra annoying is that it’s really tough to tell whether or not you have it — if you don’t know how to do it properly, that is. With these tips from Dr. Corbin Brady, dentist at Brady Dental Care, you’ll not only be able to gauge exactly how your breath smells at all times, you’ll also be able to eliminate the odor altogether.

First, the absolute best way to tell if you have bad breath: “My wife is really good about telling me,” Brady jokes. While having someone else tell you probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for (don’t worry, there are other suggestions below), there’s science behind why it’s the right answer: Our brains acclimate themselves to scents we smell frequently — in this case, our breath — so we can experience new smells more easily without having to navigate past all the scents that follow us around. If we never became acclimated to smells, it would be near impossible to smell things like food and flowers without being overwhelmed by the smell of our own breath or our surroundings. The upshot being, of course, that it’s hard to tell what your own breath really smells like.

If you don’t feel comfortable breathing in someone’s face to find out whether or not your breath stinks, there is one other thing you can do: Lick your wrist, then wait 10 seconds. If the area you licked smells bad, chances are, so does your breath. This works because you’re depositing all that gross-smelling gunk on your tongue (a large contributor to bad breath) directly onto the skin, where it gives you an uninhibited whiff of your breath.

As far as what you can do to quell your bad breath (especially if you experience it more often than not), the answer mostly lies in routine oral hygiene. “The bacteria within your mouth produces smelly by-products, so controlling that bacteria is the best path to avoiding bad breath,” Brady explains. “That means brushing, flossing and using mouth rinses — we also encourage our patients to not only brush their tongue with a toothbrush, but also to use a tongue scraper to remove any extra gunk.”

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If you’re experiencing what’s called chronic halitosis (aka, bad breath that seems to just never go away), Brady says that might be a result of dry mouth. That’s because saliva washes away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums and cheeks. But if your mouth is constantly dry, those dead cells will decompose and cause a real stink. If that’s the case, Brady recommends asking your dentist about a rinse that will keep your mouth hydrated.

Most importantly, though, fighting bad breath is as simple as routinely brushing and flossing. Well, at least tell your dentist you floss — we promise we won’t rat you out.

If people tend to rub their noses or step back and start talking, you should get a clue. Also, if everything seems to be going well but your date suddenly pulls away when you go in for a kiss, bad breath may be the problem.
There are nine other ways to tell that you have a problem with bad breath.

1) Ask
Some people try to get a whiff of their breath by cupping the hand to the nose and sniffing. This only gives you the smell of your hand. The human body tends to adopt so that you can smell other beings and things apart from yourself so you cannot an odor just by breathing into your hand.
If you see people tending to move away from you when you speak, ask someone whether you have bad breath. They may have noticed it but avoided telling you because they didn’t want to embarrass you.
2) Use a kit:
If you are too embarrassed to ask, use a home testing kit to test your breath. The kits are available in chemists and they are very well priced. One version of it is a pocket-sized kit. If the kit comes out clear after you put some saliva on it, you are in the clear but if comes out blue, your breath is less than fresh.
Whether you want to be sure that your breath is fresh before you step in for a job interview or ahead of a date, you can quickly use the kit and remedy the problem with a breath mint or breath spray if necessary. There are different versions of it which the smallest ones similar to a pack of gum in size to fit in a pocket or purse.
3) Wrist test
You can also be able to tell whether your breath is stale by licking the inside of the wrist, leaving this to dry for a minute and sniffing. The inner wrist is not constantly handling things so it can give you a true reading of your breath. You can also do this on the back of your hand. It works because if you have halitosis, sulphur salts will be transferred from your tongue to your skin.
4) Bad taste
Another pointer to bad breath is a bad taste in your mouth. Your may not be able to smell your breath by cupping your hand to your noise and smelling it but you can certainly taste it. You may notice an odor after a heavily spiced meal or after taking an alcoholic or sugary drink. Brushing and a swirl of mouthwash usually takes care of incidental causes of halitosis.
5) Halimeter test
The best way to test your breath is to have it checked at the dentist’s office where it is tested with a halimeter. A halimeter is an instrument that accurately measures the concentration of sulfide molecules in the breath and saliva. There is a big difference in sulfide concentration between breath that is fresh and breath that is stale and this is the basis of the test. The instrument is now widely used in dentists clinics and it’s the most accurate and honest way to test the state of your breath.
6) Testing with cotton
Another way to test is to with a piece of cotton gauze. Use some to wipe the back of the tongue and sniff it. If it smells, then your breath smells. You may also see a yellow colored stain which is an indicator of higher than normal production of sulfide.
7) Testing with dental floss
You can find out if your breath is fresh using dental floss. Use some in between the teeth at the back which is where food particles are most likely to get caught. Smell the floss and you will get an idea of the odor others get when you speak.
8) Test with the mirror
Here is another method: stick out your tongue. Do this in front of mirror, bringing out your tongue as far as possible. If there is a white colored film on your tongue, you may have bad breath because of bacteria that lingers on this bio-film layer which keeps you emitting a bad smell.
9) The spoon test
You can also use a spoon to get to the back of the tongue. Invert a teaspoon and use it to scrap the back of your tongue. Do it gently so that you don’t gag. If there is a whitish coating on the spoon, sniff it. It will most likely smell bad if there is a coating.
Help available
The first step to solving a problem is being aware of it. Take a first step with these nine testing methods or the first of paying attention to a tendency to turn away or step back when you speak. Then, take the next step of finding effective solutions which are available.


How to smell your own breath. Self-test for halitosis (bad breath).

– Having breath odor is bad enough but not knowing that you do is even worse. 6 ways to self-test for breath odor – This page outlines 6 methods you can use to objectively smell your own breath, and then judge how offensive it really is.

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Ways to tell if you have bad breath. – Self-testing

The challenge – Evaluating the odor of your own breath can be difficult.

Odors from your mouth escape to your nose, thus desensitizing its ability to detect them.

While knowing if we have mouth odor is something that’s important to all of us, the way our bodies are set up makes it difficult to smell, and then judge, the quality of our own breath. Here’s why:

Why can’t you smell your own breath?

  • A person’s mouth is connected to their nasal cavity via an opening behind their soft palate (see picture). And this connection provides a direct passageway for smells that originate in the mouth straight up to their nose.
  • But due to a process termed “adaptation,” a person’s sense of smell becomes accustomed to odors that are constantly present. And after a while, they simply aren’t noticed anymore.
  • That means it’s quite possible, and even likely, that a person who has halitosis simply doesn’t know it, because they literally can no longer smell their own breath odors.

So with self-testing, the objective is to figure out a way around this conundrum.

▼ Reference sources for the self-testing methods outlined below. – Aydin, Schumacher, Aylikci, Winkel

How to tell if you have bad breath –

Self-testing: Ways to accurately smell and judge your own breath odor.

The solution that’s needed for self-testing is to devise a way where you can evaluate your breath indirectly. You need to transfer its odor to another object, and then smell it. Here are some ways that you can do that:

The tip of the tongue is fairly self-cleansing.

Test #1 – The wrist test.

  • With this evaluation, you start off by first licking your wrist with your tongue.
  • You then need to wait about 5 to 10 seconds so the saliva dries a little.
  • Now, smell your wrist from a distance of about an inch or so.
What did you find out?

Did you find the smell very objectionable? Did your breath pass this first test?

Interpreting your findings.

While this test is a reflection of the way that your mouth smells, more precisely it’s an evaluation of the odor associated with the tip end of your tongue. (Its “anterior” portion, the part that extends out of your mouth when you lick something.)

And that’s the catch with this test. What you determine may not be totally accurate because the anterior portion of the tongue is relatively self-cleansing. And as a result, it may under-report cases of halitosis. But if you do get a stinky smell, take heed.

The back part of the tongue usually harbors debris that is the primary cause of bad breath.

Test #2 – The spoon test.

Now, try this second experiment. It will check the odor coming from the back portion of your tongue (its “posterior” region). This part of the tongue isn’t as self-cleansing. And it’s usually the region of the mouth from which a person’s breath odors really originate.

The “spoon” self-test for bad breath.
  • Select a small spoon from your silverware drawer.
  • Turn it upside down, place it at the very back of your tongue and then draw it forward.
  • Be deliberate but gentle. (Don’t be surprised if this test triggers your gag reflex a little bit.)
  • Now, smell-test and evaluate the goo your spoon has scraped off because this is precisely what your breath smells like to others.

Smelly debris scraped off the back part of a person’s tongue.


Take a good look at the gunk. In some cases, it may be just a clear runny liquid. But for a lot of people, they’ll find it’s a thick whitish, yellow or even brown goo (see picture). And generally speaking, the darker the color and thicker the gunk, the more likely it is that you’re going to discover that you have breath odor too.


Now, go ahead and take a whiff of the stuff. What do you think? Is its smell not so bad, or instead pretty nasty?

Taking the test one step further.

If you want to get an even better idea of what the goo you’ve scraped off of the back part of your tongue smells like, do the following:

The baggie test – Dump the scrapings inside a baggie, close it up, and then put it somewhere warm (around body temperature is good). For example, you might place it in a location that has strong sunlight shining on it.

After about 10 to 15 minutes of warming it up, open the baggie and take a whiff. The odor from the scrapings should be amplified several levels by the treatment.

Hopefully what you find won’t be too bad. But don’t be too surprised if you find out differently. The spoon test with baggie-treatment amplification is a pretty good evaluation.

So now you know, that’s what you smell like to others.

It’s this odor, as opposed to the sampling from the anterior portion of your tongue in test #1, that’s probably the way your breath smells to other people.

And if you haven’t been cleaning the back portion of your tongue, it’s probably pretty foul.

By the way, now you also know why you have bad breath.

It just so happens that this second test reveals why most people have breath odor. The most common underlying cause of halitosis is the whitish coating that covers the surface of the posterior portion of a person’s tongue.

Other ways to smell and self-check your breath.

Here are some additional testing methods you can use to evaluate the quality of your breath. Just like with the methods above, the goal is to take a specimen from your mouth, that can then be reintroduced to your nose as a (fresh, new) independent sample.

a) The gauze test.

Here’s a variation on the way you can run the spoon test described above. It’s not better, just different. Dentists sometimes use this method in their office.

  • Get a 2 by 2 inch square of medical gauze, the kind used for bandages.
  • Stick your tongue out and look for any coating on it. Expect it to be on the furthest back portion.
  • Take the gauze, and starting from the rear and working forward, wipe the surface of your tongue where the buildup is heaviest a couple of times.
Inspect the gauze.

Once you’re done, take a look at, and smell, the gunk you’ve wiped off.

  • It likely has a yellow to brown color.
  • When you smell it, it probably won’t be all that pleasant.

Whatever the results (good or bad), that’s pretty much how your breath smells to others.

b) The airbag test.

An obvious way of self-testing is to simply exhale into an odorless plastic bag, and then smelling what’s there. This method is sometimes used in scientific studies.

  • In practice, one difficulty involved is finding a truly odorless bag. A gallon-sized food storage bag is an option.
  • Another obstacle is that with each of the above tests, some of the debris from which the malodor emanates is included in the sample, thus helping to perpetuate its smell.

    And as described in our baggie test above, allowing this kind of sample to incubate at body temperature for some minutes can help to accentuate its odor so it is more easily identified.

    In comparison, samples of expired breath have been shown to contain very few microorganisms. So a bag containing just the gases may be more difficult to evaluate.

▲ Section references – Winkel

c) The floss test.

This evaluation is different from the other self-testing methods outlined on this page. And as such, it can be a very valuable source of information.

It tests for bad breath whose point of origin is from between your teeth. (FYI: This is the second most likely source of bad breath. And an especially common one with older individuals.)

How to perform the test.
  • Dispense a new piece of dental floss for flossing your teeth.
  • A length of unwaxed floss generally makes the best choice. Its loose individual strands will be the most effective in trapping debris.

    As an alternative, other types of floss can work. Although, due to their solid, one-piece nature (this includes stranded waxed floss), they’ll tend to trap less debris.

    Also, whatever type of floss you do choose, make sure it is an unflavored kind.

  • Use the floss to floss your teeth. Between your back teeth will probably tend to be the most fertile ground for detecting breath odors.

    The flossing technique you use is important. (The emphasis here is to floss subgingivally, which means to let the floss slide below the gum line as you clean.)

  • Remove the floss and smell it from a distance of about an inch. (Especially make sure to smell any section that still retains a glob of debris.)

A tried and true way to tell if you have bad breath.

Get someone else’s opinion.

Another way to check your breath is an obvious one. Just ask someone else what they think.

Actually, this makes a very good plan and is generally regarded as a reliable way to confirm a chronic breath problem. That’s because, as we described above, the human nose tends to ignore persistent odors, and even when doing testing like we describe above, it’s still sometimes hard for us to smell ourselves.

Another good reason.

Beyond just not being able to detect our own malodor, there’s another reason why getting an opinion from someone else can be important.

There’s a classification of bad breath termed pseudo-halitosis where the person suffering from it is under the impression that they have a breath problem but really don’t. Or at least not to the extent they think they do.

So in cases such as these, asking someone else what they think can be very valuable in helping to lay to rest mistaken impressions and fears.

Who makes a good person to ask?

  • Obviously, if you have a significant other, they make a good candidate.
  • You might ask your dentist or hygienist at your next appointment. After all, evaluating the status of your oral health is their job.
  • If that’s too personal for you, try asking a kid. Sometimes the least inhibited and most honest answers come from young children.

Our next page discusses the odors associated with bad breath and where they come from. After all, until you know where your halitosis originates, you won’t be able to cure it.

If instead you’re interested in learning about the scientific side of evaluating halitosis, we have pages that explain:

  • Methods and equipment dentists use to test patients for bad breath.
  • The classification system used to categorize patients’ halitosis.

Update log –

10/17/2019 – Content revision, with additions.

Authorship: Written by Staff Dentist

Topic Menu ▶ Bad Breath / Halitosis

  • Bad breath testing –
    • Self-testing – Ways to smell your own breath (accurately).
    • Testing devices – Bad breath checkers, detectors, sensors, testing strips.
    • The 5 types / classifications of halitosis.
  • Causes –
    • The fundamental causes of bad breath. – Oral bacteria / Volatile sulfur compounds/Tongue coating.
    • Factors that make bad breath worse. – Dry mouth, smoking, gum disease, medical conditions.
  • Solutions and remedies –
    • How to cure halitosis. – The simple 3 steps you need to take.
    • How to clean your tongue – Scraper / Brush / Spoon.
    • Chemical treatment for halitosis.
      • Research proven mouthwash ingredients/compounds.
      • Research proven mouthwashes/brands.
      • Treatment adjuncts- mints, lozenges, sprays, drops, gum, toothpaste, probiotics
    • Denture breath – Testing for it. / Curing it.

Page references sources:

Aydin M, et al. Diagnostic value of halitosis examination methods.

Aylikci BU, et al. Halitosis: From diagnosis to management.

Schumacher MG, et al. Evaluation of a halitosis clinic over a period of eleven years.

Winkel EG, et al. Appropriate sample bags and syringes for preserving breath samples in breath odor research: a technical note.

Yaegaki K, et al. Examination, Classification, and Treatment of Halitosis; Clinical Perspectives.

All reference sources for topic Bad Breath.

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Breath odor affects everyone at some point. Bad breath is also known as halitosis or fetor oris. Odor can come from the mouth, teeth, or as a result of an underlying health problem. Bad breath odor can be a temporary problem or a chronic condition. According to the American Dental Association, at least 50 percent of adults have had halitosis in their lifetime.

What Are the Symptoms of Breath Odor?

In addition to a bad smell in your mouth, you may also notice a bad taste in your mouth. If the taste is due to an underlying condition and isn’t because of trapped food particles, it may not disappear even if you brush your teeth and use mouthwash.

What Causes Breath Odor?

Poor Dental Hygiene

Bacteria breaks down food particles trapped in the teeth or mouth. The combination of the bacteria and decaying food in your mouth produces an unpleasant odor. Brushing and flossing regularly removes trapped food before it decays.

Brushing also removes plaque, a sticky substance that builds up on your teeth and causes odor. Plaque buildup can cause cavities and periodontal disease. Bad breath also can be a problem if you wear dentures and don’t clean them every night.

Strong Foods and Beverages

When you eat onions, garlic, or other foods with strong odors, your stomach absorbs oils from the foods during digestion. These oils pass into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs. This produces an odor that others can notice in your breath for up to 72 hours. Drinking beverages with strong odors, such as coffee, can also contribute to bad breath.


Smoking cigarettes or cigars causes a bad odor and dries out your mouth, which can make your breath odor even worse.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can also occur if you don’t create enough saliva. Saliva helps keep your mouth clean and reduces odor. Dry mouth can be a problem if you have a salivary gland condition, sleep with your mouth open, or take certain medications, including those that treat high blood pressure and urinary conditions.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease happens when you don’t remove plaque promptly from teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar. You can’t remove tartar by brushing, and it can irritate your gums. Tartar may cause pockets, or small openings, to form in the area between the teeth and gums. Food, bacteria, and dental plaque can collect in the pockets, causing a strong odor.

Sinus, Mouth, or Throat Conditions

Bad breath odor may develop if you have:

  • a sinus infection
  • postnasal drainage
  • chronic bronchitis
  • an infection in your upper or lower respiratory system

Tonsil stones also can be a source of bad breath because bacteria tend to collect on the stones.


Unusual breath odor can be a symptom of some diseases, including kidney disease, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflex disorder (GERD). GERD is a relatively common cause of halitosis. If you have kidney or liver failure or diabetes, your breath may smell fishy. When your diabetes isn’t under control, your breath may smell fruity.

How Is Breath Odor Diagnosed?

Your dentist will smell your breath and ask you questions about your problem. They may recommend you schedule an appointment for the morning, before you brush your teeth. You can expect to answer questions regarding how often you brush and floss, the kinds of food you eat, and any allergies or diseases you may have. Tell your doctor how often you snore, what medications you take, and when the problem started.

Your doctor will smell your mouth, nose, and tongue to diagnose your problem. They’ll try to determine the source of the odor. If the odor doesn’t seem to be coming from your teeth or mouth, your dentist will recommend that you visit your family doctor to rule out an underlying disease or condition.

What Are the Treatment Options for Breath Odor?

If breath odor is due to a plaque buildup, a dental cleaning may solve the problem. A deep dental cleaning may be necessary if you have periodontal disease. Treating underlying medical problems, such as a sinus infection or kidney disease, can also help improve breath odor. Your dentist may recommend that you use an artificial saliva product and drink plenty of water if dry mouth causes your odor problem.

How Can I Prevent Breath Odor?

You should brush your teeth two or more times each day. Floss daily, making sure to get in between all of your teeth. Use antimicrobial mouthwash daily to kill bacteria. Brushing your tongue with a toothbrush or tongue scraper can also help remove bacteria.

Staying hydrated can often help to eliminate or prevent breath odor. Drink water to wash away food particles and keep your mouth moist. Quitting smoking if you smoke can also help keep your mouth moist and free of odor.

There are several routines that can prevent breath odor. Clean your dentures, mouth guards, and retainers daily. Replace your old toothbrush with a new one every three months, and schedule a dental cleaning and examination every six months.

Keep your whole body in mind

Both Bosy and Huska recommend a holistic’or whole-body’approach to looking at halitosis problems. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables, for example, is an important place to start. Huska says he also looks at digestion: if your body isn’t processing food well you could be emitting a ‘rotten food smell.’ He recommends a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before a meal to help.

Sometimes bad breath is merely a result of eating fragrant foods, like onions or garlic. Rather than banishing them from your diet, Huska recommends noshing on a bit of parsley (it’s naturally high in chlorophyll) or other fresh herbs after eating. ‘That’s the whole idea behind putting the garnish on your plate,’ he says. ‘You can eat it at the end of your meal.’ Not eating at all can be another source of bad breath, as can a dry mouth (a bacterial playground!). Make sure you eat regularly and drink lots of water through the day, or try chewing sugar-free gum to increase saliva production.

Take care of your health

Good oral health care is still fundamental to banishing a breath problem. Brushing and flossing are the most effective ways to keep bacteria at bay, especially between the teeth, where it likes to hang out and multiply. Scraping your tongue with a brush or tongue scraper is another good way to squeeze out bacteria. Mouthwashes are effective, too, as long as they aren’t overused, and watch for high alcohol content: it will dry out your mouth and may ultimately make the problem worse.

Finally, as embarrassing as it might feel, talk to your dentist about your breath: she is your best ally in keeping your mouth healthy. You’ll be wearing a confident smile in no time!
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Sulfide Monitoring: The Halimeter

The most common causes of bad breath are volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that smell like rotten eggs. A halimeter is a device designed to measure VSCs in your breath. It’s sometimes used by dentists or doctors.

You will blow into a small opening at one end of the detector.

Seconds later, your results will appear on an LCD screen. Results may show no VSCs or may low levels that indicate moderate bad breath. They may also show intense VSC activity, indicating the cause of breath.

  • Advantages

This is one of the cheapest and most accessible tests for bad breath, giving a quick, clear result. A halimeter score of > 75 ppb is recognized as clearly detected halitosis.

  • Disadvantages

While the halimeter can be more reliable than a smell test, it only measures general levels of sulfide gases. It can’t identify which particular compound is present, making it difficult to find the exact origin of your bad breath and decide on treatment.

Gas Chromatography

Chemical analysis of the gases from breath is a useful tool for identifying the cause of your bad breath. VSCs are emitted by bacteria feeding on mouth debris (food particles, dead tissue, and mucus). These compounds emit foul, sulfurous odors that cause bad breath.

  • Advantages

By far the most accurate method of measuring bad breath. It can identify and analyze each of the compounds in your samples, such as bad breath culprits hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptans. This means it’s highly useful in pinpointing the malodorous compounds that are to blame for your bad breath, allowing the dentist to plan treatment accordingly.

  • Disadvantages

However, gas chromatography for bad breath diagnosis remains expensive and difficult to access due to the large and immobile equipment involved and the level of training needed by practitioners.

BANA Test Strips

The BANA test detects certain species of anaerobic bacteria. These gas causing bugs are often associated with gum disease and also known to cause bad breath.

The BANA test can be done chairside in a dental practice or doctor’s office. You can also order home tests.

Using a sample of your saliva, dental plaque or a tongue swab, the BANA test looks for enzymes in your sample. If the enzyme is there, (turns blue) it tells you that the bacteria that cause bad breath are present.

  • Advantages

The BANA test is more accurate than a halimeter. It can also be done in the privacy of your own home. The kit contains enzyme-coated test strips and interdental cleaners to gather your sample. Results are available in 24 hours, without having to mail the kit to a lab – much quicker than the old ‘Saliva Test’. The BANA test is also reasonably priced.

  • Disadvantages

The BANA test won’t determine other causes of bad breath.

Testing for H. pylori symptoms that cause bad breath

Imbalances in intestinal bacteria or infections within your gut microbiome can cause linked to bad breath. A major culprit is H. pylori bacteria, which is the bacteria that causes GERD. Several tests are available to diagnose H. pylori symptoms. Your doctor will decide which is most appropriate.

If you suffer bad breath and GERD symptoms, you may need one of these tests:


This allows your doctor to see inside your stomach and to take a biopsy (sample). H. pylori can be diagnosed from biopsies of the stomach wall taken during an endoscopy or gastroscopy. In this test, a small flexible tube is passed through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.

This tube is fitted with a camera, allowing your doctor to view the digestive system. A small piece of stomach lining can also be removed and then tested for H. pylori. It is usually done under light sedation and should only cause minor discomfort.

Breath Test

H.pylori symptoms can also be diagnosed through breath-testing. H. pylori break down urea to produce the enzyme urease, which is not normally found in the human stomach.

You will be asked to swallow a capsule or drink a liquid, containing a tiny amount of a radioactive substance and urea. This is not harmful, exposing you to the same amount of radiation as each one of us is exposed to naturally in 12 hours of everyday life.

10 minutes later, you will blow into a balloon, which is then sealed. The contents will be tested in the lab. If H. pylori is present in your stomach, it will have broken down the urea. The compound will be present in your breath sample.

This breath test is often used after antibiotic therapy to confirm that the antibiotics have eradicated the H. pylori.

Blood Test

There is a blood test that confirms the presence of H. pylori symptoms by detecting the antibodies your body produces against it.

Stool Sample

Stool samples can be tested for the presence of antigens (foreign proteins) associated with H. pylori symptoms. This type of test is usually used to test for H. pylori in children.

Tests for Bad Breath Caused by SIBO & IBS

Bad breath not caused by VSCs can be due to poor absorption in the digestive system and food intolerances.

Malabsorption conditions such as SIBO and IBS should, therefore, be diagnosed to get to the root cause of bad breath.

IBS & Malabsorption of Any Dietary Sugar

In a person with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), IBD or any gut disorder, poor digestion of sugar can cause them to ferment This can produce gas and a potential laxative effect leading to digestive pain, flatulence or bloating. Other less common symptoms include fatigue, nausea, heartburn, and urgent bowel movements.

Breath tests can be ordered without a doctor’s referral. For self-referred patients, the below table is a guide only.

Fructose For fructose malabsorption. Recommended in all IBS patients, especially those with symptoms related to fruits, vegetables, honey and foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
Lactose For lactose malabsorption (lactase deficiency). Recommended in all IBS patients, especially those with symptoms related to milk/dairy products.
Sorbitol For suspected sorbitol malabsorption. Sorbitol is found in some fruits (e.g. stone fruits) and as an artificial sweetener in sugar-free foods.
Sucrose For suspected sucrose malabsorption. Sucrose is found in processed foods (as common table sugar), and in fruits and vegetables.
Mannitol For suspected mannitol malabsorption, particularly in vegetarians. Mannitol is used as a sugar substitute and occurs naturally in some vegetables e.g. mushrooms, snow peas, cauliflower.
Glucose Recommended for investigation of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

SIBO Breath Test

Breath testing measures the hydrogen and methane gas produced by bacteria in the small intestine. These gases diffuse into the blood and then the lungs. They can then be detected in your breath. The advantage of these breath tests is that they are painless and non-invasive.

  • You will be asked to prepare for your test in advance to ensure accurate results.
  • You will also be asked to follow a 1 or 2-day preparatory diet that removes much of the bacteria-feeding food. Milk and dairy products, canned and dried fruit, fruit juices, soft drinks and honey and high fiber foods (beans, oats, corn) are restricted. You must also stop taking any fiber supplements (e.g. Metamucil) and laxatives.

On the day of your test, you will be asked to drink a sugar solution of glucose or lactulose.

Lactulose Breath Test (LBT)

Humans can’t digest or absorb lactulose. Only bacteria have the proper enzymes to do this. After the bacteria consume lactulose, they make gas. If there is an overgrowth of these bacteria, this will be reflected in your levels of hydrogen and/or methane.

  • Advantages

The advantage to this test is that it can diagnose overgrowth in the distal end of the small intestine

  • Disadvantage

This test cannot diagnose bacterial overgrowth as well as the Glucose Breath Test (GBT).

Glucose Breath Test (GBT)

Both humans and bacteria absorb glucose. Glucose is absorbed within the first three feet of the small intestine. Therefore, if hydrogen and/or methane are detected in this test, it reflects an overgrowth in the proximal/upper end of the small intestine (within the first two feet).

  • Advantages

This test can successfully and accurately diagnose proximal bacterial.

  • Disadvantages

It cannot diagnose the more common distal overgrowth.

Before You Get Tested: 9 Steps To Cure Bad Breath

These steps may help you cure your bad breath at home. 90% of bad breath begins and ends in the mouth. So, before you start this program, visit the dentist and ensure your mouth is healthy. Follow any oral hygiene tips they give you, as this may cure your problem.

No luck? Then it’s time to go get tested.

Step 1) Remove obvious odor-causing foods such as garlic, sprouts or durians.

Step 2) Avoid smoking or using tobacco.

Step 3) Increase your intake of high-fiber foods and reduce sugar, grains, dairy, and meat in your diet.

Step 4) Keep well hydrated. Avoid diuretics like coffee.

Step 5) Perform oral hygiene after every meal (brushing and flossing).

Step 6) Use a tongue scraper to regularly brush and clean your tongue.

Step 7) Rinse your mouth with warm salty water daily.

Step 8) Chew sugar-free gum.

Step 9) Get a dental check-up to identify oral hygiene habits and a dental clean and gum treatment. This will identify any areas where your dental hygiene is still not as good as it could be.

Curing Your Bad Breath: What NOT to Do

  • Chew on mints – they often contain sugars and simply mask the problem. This makes you less likely to look for the root cause.
  • Use mouthwashes. Again, these simply mask the problem.
  • Take proton pump inhibitors g. Omeprazole for acid reflux. Bad breath due to acid reflux or GERD symptoms is not helped by reducing stomach acid.
  • Take antibiotics without discussing the implications for your bad breath with your healthcare practitioner.

Have you completed the 9-Step cure bad breath program?

If you’ve followed all of these steps and are still suffering from bad breath, you need to find its cause. As you’ve seen, problems with your gut microbiome, intestinal bacteria, and the digestive system can all cause bad breath. Consult your doctor and ask which tests and services they offer to help address your bad breath.

Now we want to hear from you. Please leave your questions in the comments below.

For more information on Dr. Lin’s clinical protocol that highlights the steps parents can take to prevent dental problems in their children:

Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.

Click below to order your copy now:

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Signs of Bad Breath

Most People Who Have Bad Breath Don’t Know It

Believe it or not, people with bad breath, especially chronic bad breath, may not even be aware of the problem. That’s because our oral cavities are connected to our noses through an opening in the back of our mouths. Some research suggests that our brain automatically filters out triggers or receptors that it deems to be non-threatening through a process called sensory adaptation. According to this theory, our nose may filter out any bad smells coming from the mouth because we have grown accustomed to our own odors.

Why Can’t We Smell Our Own Breath?

If someone is unaware of their bad breath, there are a couple possible reasons why. One is social stigma. Many people may have noticed that their oral health isn’t optimal or that conditions in their mouths feel different or abnormal. However, many people may be too embarrassed to ask a loved one if the problem needs to be addressed. Another possible reason is our natural inability to actually smell our own breath, caused by an opening in the back of the mouth behind the soft palate, called the pharynx, which connects it to the nose.

So How Can I Tell?

It is very likely that you’ll experience mild bad breath on occasion, given how common the causes are. If you have concerns about chronic bad breath or halitosis, try asking a loved one or schedule an appointment with your dentist. Oral healthcare professionals cannot only diagnose bad breath, but are trained to help accurately identify the underlying cause.

Are You a Smoker?

An array of health issues, one of them being bad breath. If you smoke or chew tobacco, you could be suffering from foul breath odors.

Coffee or Alcohol Drinker?

Coffee and alcohol both make your mouth prone to bad breath. If you habitually consume either of them, there’s a good chance your breath isn’t as fresh as you’d like.

Oral Health Issues

Many common oral problems are likely to contribute to bad breath. So if you have an existing condition, like gum disease, open wounds, sinus/oral infection, or respiratory problems, have a loved one or dentist see if it’s also causing bad breath odors.

Could You Have Bad Breath and Not Know It?

  • You smoke or chew tobacco. Both of these bad habits also are guaranteed to give you bad breath. “They decrease the amount of saliva in your mouth,” says Levine. “Saliva contains oxygen, which keeps your mouth healthy and fresh.” Here, the answer is obvious: Quit!
  • You have a white-coated tongue. This is a predictable sign of bad breath. “That white coating is comprised of sulfur compounds that have risen to the tongue’s surface and cause bad breath,” explains Levine.
  • You have gastric reflux. The churning acid produced by gastric reflux is not only uncomfortable but can also lead to bad breath. “Unfortunately, gastric reflux results in bad breath in a way that’s hard to solve,” Levine says. “Ask your doctor about prescribing a medication to get this condition under control.”
  • You eat suspect foods. “In the end it’s true: You breathe what you eat,” says Levine. “High-protein foods, coffee, onions and garlic, sugar, acidic foods and drinks, and dairy products all result in worse breath because they create an environment for the bad bacteria to grow. It needs to be balanced with fruits, veggies, and alkalinizing good foods.”
  • You take certain prescription or OTC medications. A number of medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect, which in turn can lead to bad breath. In these situations, you can ask your doctor if any alternatives exist to your current medications, prescription or over-the-counter, that might help with the problem.
  • How to Tell If You Have Bad Breath

    Now that you know the signs, there’s a simple trick to test your breath for yourself. “Take a minute and try this easy Bad Breath Self Awareness Test,” suggests Levine. “Wipe the surface of your mouth with a piece of cotton gauze and smell that. If you notice a yellowish stain on the cotton, that’s a likely sign that you have an elevated sulfide production level. Now, lick the back of your hand. Let it dry for about 10 seconds, then smell. If you notice an odor, you have a breath disorder because the sulfur salts from your tongue have been transferred to your hand.”

    Another approach is to get an unbiased opinion. “Ask someone you trust who will give you an honest answer,” says Dan Marut, DMD, a dentist based in Ashland, Ore., who’s the president and founder of Quality Dental Plan. “You can always ask a dental professional as well. Many times people are embarrassed to ask, and others are afraid to tell them. Your mouth is a very personal space — talking about it is not always easy.”

    They Help You Smile, Now Help Them Smile. Is your dentist one of America’s TOP dentists? Nominate your favorite dentist now.

    What Is It?

    Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is breath that has an unpleasant odor. This odor can strike periodically or be persistent, depending on the cause. In many people, the millions of bacteria that live in the mouth (particularly on the back of the tongue) are the primary causes of bad breath. The mouth’s warm, moist conditions make an ideal environment for these bacteria to grow. Most bad breath is caused by something in the mouth.

    Some types of bad breath, such as “morning mouth,” are considered to be fairly normal, and they usually are not health concerns. The “morning mouth” type of bad breath occurs because the saliva that regularly washes away decaying food and odors during the daytime diminishes at night while you sleep. Your mouth becomes dry, and dead cells adhere to your tongue and to the inside of your cheeks. Bacteria use these cells for food and expel compounds that have a foul odor.

    In addition, bad breath can be caused by the following:

    • Poor dental hygiene — Infrequent or improper brushing and flossing can leave food particles to decay inside the mouth.
    • Infections in the mouth — Periodontal (gum) disease
    • Respiratory tract infections — Throat infections, sinus infections, lung infections
    • External agents — Garlic, onions, coffee, cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco
    • Dry mouth (xerostomia) — This can be caused by salivary gland problems, medications or by “mouth breathing.”
    • Systemic illnesses — Diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, sinus disease, reflux disease and others
    • Psychiatric illness — Some people may perceive that they have bad breath, but it is not noticed by oral-health-care professionals or others. This is referred to as “pseudohalitosis.”


    A person may not always know that he or she has bad breath. This phenomenon is because odor-detecting cells in the nose eventually become accustomed to the constant flow of bad smells from the mouth. Others may notice and react by recoiling as you speak.

    Other associated symptoms depend on the underlying cause of bad breath:

    • Poor dental hygiene — Teeth are coated with film or plaque, food debris trapped between teeth, pale or swollen gums
    • Infections in the mouth — Gums may be red, swollen and bleed easily, especially after brushing or flossing; pus may drain from between teeth; a pocket of pus (abscess) at the base of a tooth; loose teeth or a change in “fit” of a denture; painful, open sores on the tongue or gums
    • Respiratory tract infections — Sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (“swollen glands”) in the neck, fever, stuffy nose, a greenish or yellowish nasal discharge, a mucus-producing cough
    • External agents — Cigarette stains on fingers and teeth, a uniform yellow “coffee stain” on teeth
    • Dry mouth — Difficulty swallowing dry foods, difficulty speaking for a prolonged period because of mouth dryness, a burning sensation in the mouth, an unusually high number of dental caries, dry eyes (in Sjögren’s syndrome)
    • Systemic (bodywide) illnesses — Symptoms of diabetes, lung disease, kidney failure or liver disease


    A dentist or physician may notice the patient’s bad breath while the patient is discussing his or her medical history and symptoms. In some cases, depending on the smell of the patient’s breath, the dentist or physician may suspect a likely cause for the problem. For example, “fruity” breath may be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. A urine-like smell, especially in a person who is at high risk of kidney disease, can sometimes indicate kidney failure.

    Your dentist will review your medical history for medical conditions that can cause bad breath and for medications that can cause dry mouth. Your dentist also will ask you about your diet, personal habits (smoking, chewing tobacco) and any symptoms, including when the bad breath was noticed and by whom.

    Your dentist will examine your teeth, gums, oral tissues and salivary glands. He or she also will feel your head and neck and will evaluate your breath when you exhale from your nose and from your mouth. Once the physical examination is finished, your dentist may refer you to your family physician if systemic problems are the most likely cause. In severe cases of gum disease, your dentist may recommend that you be seen by a periodontist (dentist who specializes in gum problems).

    You will need diagnostic tests if the doctor suspects a lung infection, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or Sjögren’s syndrome. Depending on the suspected illness, these tests may include blood tests, urine tests, X-rays of the chest or sinuses, or other specialized testing.

    Expected Duration

    How long bad breath lasts depends on its cause. For example, when the problem results from poor dental hygiene, proper dental care will begin to freshen the mouth immediately, with even more impressive results after a few days of regular brushing and flossing. Periodontal disease and tooth abscess also respond quickly to proper dental treatment. Bad breath resulting from chronic sinusitis may be a recurring problem, especially if it is caused by a structural abnormality of the sinuses.

    Bad breath the results from a systemic illness may be a long-term problem that can often be controlled with proper medical care.


    Bad breath caused by dental problems can be prevented easily. Daily maintenance calls for brushing your teeth, tongue and gums after meals, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwashes approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). Regular visits to the dentist (at least twice a year) should be made for dental examinations and for professional teeth and gum cleaning.

    Bad breath also can be combated by drinking plenty of water every day to encourage saliva production. An occasional swish of the mouth with water can loosen food particles. Other products that keep breath fresh and prevent plaque from forming include sugar-free gum, sugarless lozenges, raw carrots and celery.


    The treatment of bad breath depends on its cause.

    When to Call A Professional

    Call your dentist promptly if you have bad breath with painful, swollen gums that bleed easily or loose teeth. Also, call your doctor if you have bad breath along with a fever, sore throat, a postnasal drip, a discolored nasal discharge or a mucus-producing cough. Even if you have none of these associated symptoms, call your dentist or physician if your bad breath continues despite a good diet and proper dental hygiene.

    If you have diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic liver or kidney disease, ask your doctor how bad breath can be a sign that your underlying medical condition needs immediate medical attention.


    Once bad breath has been diagnosed, the outlook for fresh breath is usually excellent as long as you stick to your dentist’s or physician’s treatment plan.

    Additional Info

    Everything you need to know about bad breath

    Potential causes of bad breath include:

    • Tobacco: Tobacco products cause their own types of mouth odor. Additionally, they increase the chances of gum disease which can also cause bad breath.
    • Food: The breakdown of food particles stuck in the teeth can cause odors. Some foods such as onions and garlic can also cause bad breath. After they are digested, their breakdown products are carried in the blood to the lungs where they can affect the breath.
    • Dry mouth: Saliva naturally cleans the mouth. If the mouth is naturally dry or dry due to a specific disease, such as xerostomia, odors can build up.
    • Dental hygiene: Brushing and flossing ensure the removal of small particles of food that can build up and slowly break down, producing odor. A film of bacteria called plaque builds up if brushing is not regular. This plaque can irritate the gums and cause inflammation between the teeth and gums called periodontitis. Dentures that are not cleaned regularly or properly can also harbor bacteria that cause halitosis.
    • Crash diets: Fasting and low-carbohydrate eating programs can produce halitosis. This is due to the breakdown of fats producing chemicals called ketones. These ketones have a strong aroma.
    • Drugs: Certain medications can reduce saliva and, therefore, increase odors. Other drugs can produce odors as they breakdown and release chemicals in the breath. Examples include nitrates used to treat angina, some chemotherapy chemicals, and some tranquilizers, such as phenothiazines. Individuals who take vitamin supplements in large doses can also be prone to bad breath.
    • Mouth, nose, and throat conditions: Sometimes, small, bacteria-covered stones can form on the tonsils at the back of the throat and produce odor. Also, infections or inflammation in the nose, throat, or sinuses can cause halitosis.
    • Foreign body: Bad breath can be caused if they have a foreign body lodged in their nasal cavity, especially in children.
    • Diseases: Some cancers, liver failure, and other metabolic diseases can cause halitosis, due to the specific mixes of chemicals that they produce. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause bad breath due to the regular reflux of stomach acids.

    Rarer causes of bad breath

    As mentioned earlier, the most common reason for bad breath is oral hygiene, but other situations can also be to blame.

    Rarer causes of bad breath include:

    • Ketoacidosis: When the insulin levels of a person with diabetes are very low, their bodies can no longer use sugar and begin to use fat stores instead. When fat is broken down, ketones are produced and build up. Ketones can be poisonous when found in large numbers and produce a distinctive and unpleasant breath odor. Ketoacidosis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.
    • Bowel obstruction: Breath can smell like feces if there has been a prolonged period of vomiting, especially if a bowel obstruction is present.
    • Bronchiectasis: This is a long-term condition in which airways become wider than normal, allowing for a build-up of mucus that leads to bad breath.
    • Aspiration pneumonia: A swelling or infection in the lungs or airways due to inhaling vomit, saliva, food, or liquids.

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