How Do I Tell If I Have Bad Breath

Do you sometimes wake up in the morning with your mouth tasting like the bottom of a chicken coop and wonder if your breath smells just as bad?  

Do you wonder whether you have bad breath or not?  People cup their hands and breathe into them, hoping to smell whether their breath is good or not.  Can you really smell your own breath to tell if it is bad?  


Background smells are like background noises.  We get used to them and don’t notice them.  Your body overlooks your own breath odors and gives priority to odors “out there,” external to your body.  So how can you tell if you have bad breath?

There are a few things to do that can indicate whether your breath is fresh or nasty.  The most obvious and the hardest to do is to ask someone.  If you can’t work up the courage to ask an adult, children are usually more than willing to give you an honest answer.  Maybe even more real than you are hoping for.  

This test is very subjective, but if you think the taste in your mouth is nasty, the chances are your breath may be, too.  If you can taste garlic, alcohol, or morning mouth, a good brushing, flossing, and tongue cleaning are in order.  

There are tests that you can do to determine whether your breath needs some remedies.  If you want to try to test your breath yourself, here are a couple of ways that will work.  

A quick and easy test is to lick the back of your hand.  Let the saliva dry, then smell your hand.  If it is bad, then so is your breath.  If you have some dental floss handy, floss your back teeth, then smell the floss.  You can stick out your tongue in front of a mirror to check for that white coating that comes with a high level of anaerobic bacterial activity in your mouth.  These bacteria are responsible for the stinky sulfurous smell in your mouth.  If you have a thick coating, you probably have a halitosis problem.  Or take a spoon, gently scrape the back of your tongue where most anaerobic bacteria reside in your mouth.  Look at the spoon.  If you see a white residue, that is the same coating that you have on your tongue.  Smell the spoon.  It will give you an indication of whether you have a mouth odor problem or not. 

A third test is to wipe your tongue with a piece of cotton or gauze.  If you see a yellowish stain, that’s probably from the sulfur compounds of decomposition caused by the anaerobic bacteria in your mouth.  Smell the cotton, and that will give you an idea of what your breath smells like to other people.

If you want to be more scientific about it, there are also lab tests you can do.  Your dentist may have a machine called a Halimeter, which measures sulfide gas concentrations in your breath. The waste products of anaerobic bacterial activity in your mouth are volatile sulfur compounds, known as VSC’s.  They are hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan.  Even though a Halimeter doesn’t measure for each gas separately, a high measure of sulfides can indicate a correspondingly high level of VSC’s, which, in turn, can indicate bad breath.  The higher the levels, potentially, the worst the breath. 

There is also a home-based test for sulfur compounds.  To use it, you swab the back of your tongue, place the swab in a test tube that comes with the test kit.  After a couple of minutes, check the swab’s color against a chart that indicates the level of sulfur compounds present.

Whether you think you have bad breath or not, it’s a good idea to practice good oral hygiene.