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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 6 | Jun. 5, 2003

Bad Gums not Bad Brushing Causes Bad Breath

Gingivitis is at the root of the problem

By Hilary Thomson

Think brushing, flossing and swigging mouthwash can save you from bad breath?

Think again.

“There is a common superstition -- even among dentists -- that oral hygiene is directly linked to bad breath,” says Ken Yaegaki, director of the Faculty of Dentistry Breath Testing Clinic and a world expert on halitosis. “Our clinical experience doesn’t support that theory at all.”

That’s why Yaegaki has teamed up with colleagues in Beijing and Tokyo to investigate the primary cause of bad breath. He is co-supervising the work of primary investigator Xuenan Liu, a doctoral student at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. With colleague and co-supervisor Yoko Kawaguchi, Yaegaki has overseen the study of approximately 2,000 adults of all ages through interviews and examinations at Beijing health clinics, schools and local offices of the Communist party.

The project is the first clinical bad breath study ever done in China, a country with strong educational links to Japan.

The findings have reversed common thinking to show that gum disease, not poor oral hygiene, is the primary and direct cause of bad breath.

Yaegaki hopes the findings will help promote regular trips to the dentist.

“Even in Canada, almost half the population does not have regular exams and cleaning,” he says. “I want to change this behaviour through people’s fear of bad breath. They may be more motivated to have regular check-ups to avoid getting the gum disease that leads to bad breath.”

Researchers use a halimeter to test bad breath. The system uses gas chromatography as a measuring device and provides precise readings of sulphur compounds, high levels of which are the basis of bad breath.

Other causes of halitosis include tongue coating from various health conditions such as diabetes, or liver disease, throat inflammation or sinusitis, and some medications.

Many remedies, including most mouthwashes are “a little bit more effective than water,” in combating bad breath, says Yaegaki. Some products, such as sugar-free mint-flavoured gums actually worsen halitosis by breaking down tongue coating and releasing malodorous compounds into the mouth.

Oral hygiene is improving in China as the economy improves, creating a huge market for tooth cleaning and breath freshening products, Yaegaki reports. This summer, he will supervise a post-doctoral fellow from Beijing where two dental schools have started bad breath clinics and research.

The findings from the recent study will be published at an international breath odour conference in April 2004.

For more information on UBC’s Breath Testing Clinic, visit the Web site at http://www.dentistry.ubc.ca/clinic/proserv/
or call 604.822.8028.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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