Bad breath is a common problem for many people, given the wide variety of substances traveling through our mouths daily. Some people avoid offensive foods and drinks, chew gum, use mouth rinses, or eat mints to mask unpleasant odor. Others cannot escape bad breath quite so easily. At least 40 million Americans suffer from halitosis. Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment for it.
According to a study in the September/October issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal, halitosis is a term used to describe any disagreeable odor of expired air. Bad breath is a generally accepted term for foul smells emanating from the mouth. Oral malodor is a term reserved for unpleasant smells originating from the oral cavity. "A common reason for bad breath is post-nasal drip, which coats the back area of the tongue with bacteria-rich mucous," says AGD spokesperson, June Lee, DDS, MAGD. "A tongue scraper is often effective in relieving oral malodor caused by sinus drainage."
The study reviewed literature examining the effects of using tongue scrapers to brush the tongue, rather than using a toothbrush to scrape the tongue. Data revealed that a tongue cleaner/scraper demonstrated a significant difference in reducing volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) levels, which are produced when bacteria and amino acids interact to produce bad breath.
Though there is no standard treatment, bacteria-causing halitosis can be reduced by brushing or scraping the middle and back of the tongue. Tongue scraping can lower VSC concentration, subsequently reducing oral malodor. However, that reduction is only short-term, and not an absolute solution for eliminating malodor. The authors of the General Dentistry article feel that future research is necessary to determine what role undetected odorants may play in oral malodor, as well as more well designed, randomized clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of tongue scrapers, toothbrushes, and mouth rinses on reducing VSC levels.
Despite the short-term reduction, Dr. Lee feels that tongue scrapers are a good tool for the short-term. "Tongue cleaners and scrapers are straightforward and comfortable to use, easy to transport, and inexpensively priced. Cleaning the tongue is quickly and easily accomplished. Everyone from children to elders should be able to incorporate this technique into their oral care regimen."
Bad breath basics:
The Academy of General Dentistry is a non-profit organization of more than 35,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up-to-date in the profession through continuing education. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patient's oral health needs. Learn more about AGD member dentists or find more information on dental health topics at www.agd.org/consumer.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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