Now there’s another good reason to go on that diet after the holidays. Tel Aviv University researchers have published a study that finds a direct link between obesity and bad breath: the more overweight you are, the more likely your breath will smell unpleasant to those around you.
The research, led by breath expert Prof. Mel Rosenberg from the Department of Human Microbiology and The Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, was reported in the Journal of Dental Research in October. The study also reported, for the first time, scientific evidence that links bad breath to alcohol consumption.
“The finding on alcohol and bad breath was not surprising because the anecdotal evidence was already there,” says Prof. Rosenberg. “However, the finding that correlated obesity to bad breath was unanticipated.”
A Weighty Sample
The study was done in Israel and included a sample of 88 adults of varying weights and heights. While at a clinic for a regular check-up, they were asked by graduate student Tsachi Knaan, a co-author in the study, whether he could test the odor of their breath and ask questions about their daily habits.
Prof. Rosenberg, Knaan and Prof. Danny Cohen concluded from the data that overweight patients were more likely to have foul-smelling breath. “This finding should hold for the general public,” says Prof. Rosenberg. “But we don’t have any scientific evidence as to why this is the case. That will be the next step.”
He surmises that the connection between obesity and bad breath could be caused by several factors. Obese people may have a diet that promotes the condition of dry mouth. Prof. Rosenberg also suggests that people who are obese may be less in tune with taking care of their mouths and bodies. “We have certainly opened a window of questions here,” says Prof. Rosenberg.
Halitosis of the Ancient World?
While widespread obesity is a modern invention, bad breath is not. The phenomenon goes back thousands of years.
Says Prof. Rosenberg, “I have read reports of bad breath in ancient Egypt. In ancient Rome there was a man named Cosmos who sold breath-freshening agents. Bad breath is frequently mentioned in Jewish scripture The Talmud stating that if you were a ‘Cohen’ (a priest) you couldn’t perform holy duties on the Temple if your breath was bad.
“If you were a newlywed groom, you could annul a marriage if on your wedding night you discovered that your wife has bad breath. In ancient times, we learn, bad breath was considered a ‘no-no,’ as bad as having leprosy.”
Self-Examination Not a Possibility
The problem remains today. Bad breath — and the fear that you might have it — plagues millions of people because it isn’t easy for one to check one’s own breath. Indeed, nine people in the study were unaware of their bad breath.
Says Prof. Rosenberg, who co-edits the Journal of Breath Research, “I can’t go out into the world and smell everybody’s breath, and quite frankly I’ve already smelled many thousands of cases. My goal now is to give people a list of the potential factors that could lead to this condition, so they can treat themselves.” Obesity is now added to the list, which includes dry mouth, poor dental hygiene, and possibly even the morning cup of coffee.
“You should tell people in your family if they have bad breath,” says Prof. Rosenberg. “It is curable in almost all instances, and it can be a sign of disease. As for work colleagues, they might be happy for the advice, but they might not.”
And don’t be embarrassed if it happens to you, he adds. Even professors of dentistry and experts in the field of bad breath sometimes have malodorous mouths.
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