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Using a Halimeter: How Bad Is Your Breath, Really?

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Let's face it: Bad breath, or what your dentist calls halitosis, stinks. But did you know that there is a device, called the Halimeter, that can measure how bad someone's breath is? With this handy device and the help of your dentist, you can take action to reduce mouth odour.

What Causes Halitosis?

Almost everyone experiences bad breath from time to time, whether that's after a meal filled with garlic or first thing in the morning. According to the Canadian Dental Association, bad breath affects about 25% of the population.

Many times, the cause of the bad breath is bacteria. A study in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association explains that certain bacteria produce volatile sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide and methanethiol which cause bad breath.

Poor oral hygiene, smoking and dry mouth can all increase your risk for developing halitosis, as the Ontario Dental Association notes. Systemic conditions, such as liver disease, diabetes, HIV, sinus infections, and lung problems such as cancer, can also contribute to halitosis, explains Health Link BC.

Measuring Bad Breath With a Halimeter

The Halimeter® (developed by Interscan Corporation) has been used both in research and in clinical practice to measure bad breath in a quantifiable way. The instrument is a small, box-shaped device with a sensor that sits near your mouth. You might see one of these used in a general dentist's office, though smaller, portable equivalents are now available for purchase and home use. This instrument is easy to use and can detect VSC in parts per billion (ppb); its results are expressed as the total concentration of the oral VSC (foul smelling compounds).

According to a study published in the Journal of Oral Applied Sciences readings above 80 ppb indicated bad breath. This device does not detect several volatile compounds nor some VSC found in halitosis, so additional testing may be necessary for a more accurate assessment. Another study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, suggests that since Halimeter readings have a low sensitivity for measuring methyl mercaptan, (a significant contributor to halitosis) additional testing using organoleptic measurements of VSC from an individual's mouth may be necessary. Findings between the two methods do not always correspond, which is why it's important not to rely on one method alone to measure and monitor bad breath. Researchers also recommended multiple tests over time for better, more personalized data.

Techniques to Reduce Bad Breath

Once you know you have bad breath, it's time to fix it! According to My Health Alberta, reducing bad breath starts with a good oral care routine. Here are several steps you can take to improve your oral hygiene:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Brush your tongue.
  • Use a mouthwash.
  • If you have dentures, clean them according to your dental professional's instructions.
  • Avoid smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Maintain regular dental visits.

If your halitosis stems from a medical condition or dry mouth, your doctor and dentist can help you tailor your treatment to address the underlying cause. A Halimeter can also help monitor your progress in treating your bad breath.

So, if you experience bad breath, don't be alarmed! Much of the population has this same concern, and your dentist is equipped to help you measure and address this stinky problem. With their help, you can improve your oral habits, breath and quality of life.