The fascinating science of really bad breath

Probiotic Dan
Bad breath WarsPhoto byJoshua Miller/Flickr

Given how far modern medicine has come, should we not have solved something as simple as bad breath by now?

From the current look of things, the solution to bad breath is going to be another one of those “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” type of affairs. The thing about bad breath is that the person stinking does not necessarily feel their stink. But to everyone else within smelling-distance, bad breath is a weapon of mass devastation.

The unique tragedy of bad breath is that it embarrasses the victim, just as much the perpetrator. Still, nothing will throw you into a shame spiral more easily than finding out that you have been causing mass devastation through bad breath all day.

In the modern world where everything is so superficial, most people do not even have that one trusted person who can lovingly tell them their breath leaks. Just a myriad of fake ones talking about your bad breath behind your back. Still, if you post a hot photo on social media, you will get at least 10 trolls telling you that you have bad breath…judging from the picture!

Whatever the cause of your bad breath/halitosis, it can significantly impact your self-confidence and social interactions. A stink in your breath will also mess with your personal and professional interactions, potentially hindering success and opportunities.

So What Really Causes Bad Breath?

Most people attribute bad breath to poor hygiene practices. Me and millions of people who suffer from bad breath will tell you with some high degree of conviction that bad breath is not necessarily caused by poor oral hygiene. Indeed, you can brush your teeth five times a day, yet your bad breath persists.

The real reason behind persistent bad breath is a Sulphur-producing bacteria that mostly colonizes the tongue and throat.

According to research, Sulphur-producing bacteria residing on the back of the tongue and below the gum line are the primary culprits behind halitosis, and they produce bad smells by emitting foul-smelling gases, including hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs odor) and methyl mercaptan (rotten cabbage odor).

If you have been told that you suffer from bad breath, you are not alone, or even unique in your suffering. Approximately 30 percent of the global population suffers from chronic bad breath, according to statistics from Harvard Medical School.

Think about this way, if your bad breath is caused by other factors such as dry mouth or periodontitis, it will soon go away as soon as you come home from your dentist, or after you down a glass of water or two. Similarly, garlic breath is just caused by garlic. However, you cannot have bad breath all year round, and still believe it is caused by poor oral hygiene…the math does not just add up.

What About People with “Just Breath”, Even Though They Forgot to Brush Last Night?

First, let us make this clear. The opposite of bad breath is not good breath; it is “just breath”. The presumption is that there nobody’s breath that you want to sniff, right?

About the over 50% of the world population with “just breath” … It turns out that the colonization of "bad" bacteria in the oral cavity plays a crucial role in causing persistent bad breath. People with a lot of Gram-negative bacteria (simply known as bad bacteria) colonizing their tongue, particularly when exposed to sugars and carbs, can produce the majority of foul odors.

You should be able to tell this if the stink in your breath goes all the way up the morning after enjoying a couple of sweet soft drinks and foods last night.

On the flip-side, people with a good balance of gram-positive (simply known as good bacteria) and gram-negative bacteria will have what we term as a balanced oral microbiome.

To cut the long story short, people with a good microbiome balance on their mouth are likely to escape the plague of bad breath. However, it is important to note that a healthy mouth doesn't necessarily lack "bad" bacteria. Instead, having a balanced oral microbiome, with overlapping bacterial communities, helps maintain fresh breath.

Why Most of the Offered Solutions to Bad Breath Do Not Work.

It is particularly annoying and it is a near-hate-crime when you and your colleagues recommend that your other colleague with bad breath should do regular brushing and flossing to solve this problem…Unwoke much?

Here is how this works. Common recommendations such as regular brushing and flossing often provide only temporary relief from bad breath. Mouthwashes, while offering short-term freshness, can have unpleasant side effects and may not address the underlying bacterial imbalance effectively.

Because of judgmental people like you and I, researchers have also been exploring innovative mouth rinses that neutralize the compounds responsible for foul breath. However, note that this product might also kill all good bacteria in your mouth.

Trust me, you need the mouth bacteria balance more than you need to please people with your fresh breath.

The Real Solution to Bad Breath

You might not have heard it because it is a relatively new development. But microbiologists are shifting their focus to understanding the complex communities of microbes residing on the tongue, gums, and teeth. These microbes have an impact on various factors such as breath, teeth discoloration, and even digestion.

Rather than eliminating all bacteria with mouthwash, rinses, and such, researchers now recognize the importance of maintaining a diverse and balanced oral microbiome as the best solution to bad breath.

Today, scientists are exploring the potential of probiotics, specifically Streptococcus salivarius K12, to combat halitosis. These probiotics can outcompete the bad bacteria, creating room for less smelly species to thrive and improve your breath.

By the way, children are born with a ton of Streptococcus salivarius K12s in their oral cavities. Probably why the little munchkins do not need a toothbrush.

Because you cannot just walk into your local store and order two Streptococcus salivarius K12s, you should turn your attention to balancing your oral bacteria using a simpler approach.

First, we are not crazy enough to go harvesting the saliva of healthy infants in order to get ourselves some potent K12 bacteria to solve our bad breaths, right? Actually, we are and we do that, and we bottle the product, and we sell it on Amazon.
Partial screenshot of various K12- probiotics being sold on Amazon. Image for purpose of illustration not an endorsement of any brandPhoto byAmazon

Now that the dirty work has been done for you, all that is left is for you to go shopping!

Second, I think it is better to adopt a Probiotic Lifestyle to deal with this problem in the long-term. This means embracing probiotic foods, abiding by the simple commandments of the probiotic lifestyle, and whenever possible, adding a good probiotic supplement to your list of daily vitamins.


If you are tired of traditional remedies to bad breath, you can jump on the new research wagon that investigates the effectiveness of probiotics in solving halitosis. These benign bacteria produce substances that deter the multiplication of bad bacteria, potentially creating a healthier oral environment.

Scientists are also exploring the development of peptides to selectively target and eliminate the bacteria responsible for bad breath, thereby opening opportunities for a more diverse and pleasant oral microbiome.

Overall, the battle against bad breath is being fought on a microbial level.

As science continues to unravel the mysteries of bad breath, a future where everyone can enjoy the confidence of a wide sweet-smelling smile is within reach without relying on mints.

Again, one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind where we can all laugh, tell loud jokes, and whisper sweet nothings to each other without the slightest worry that our breath is causing mass devastation!

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Probiotic Lifestyle ambassador and Philosopher. Get wise or die trying!

Boston, MA

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