Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

New mouthwash for bad breath

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The New Scientist has an interview with a guy who’s invented a new mouthwash:

Why spend your career sniffing bad breath?

It’s an intellectual gold mine – albeit a smelly one – and it’s a problem that almost everyone suffers from or worries about. Furthermore, you can learn almost everything you want to know about bacteria from the mouth. At least 600 different bacterial species live there. For them, it’s like living in a tropical rainforest. Most have adapted exclusively to the oral cavity. Understanding bacteria is essential for understanding life.

What causes the smell?

Bacteria feed on food debris, dead cells and mucus by clipping off sugar linkages on glycoproteins, which exposes polypeptides. Next, other types of bacteria break down these exposed polypeptides into their building blocks, which break down further into individual amino acids, and eventually foul-smelling gases. These include volatile sulphur compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercaptan, and nitrogen-containing gases such as skatole and indole, which smell like faeces. Other nitrogenous gases that may be involved include cadaverine and putrescine, whose odours are related to corpses and decay. Dozens of gases are probably involved.

Where are the bacteria most prolific?

The most common source of the smell is the back of the tongue. We think that a mucus secretion from your nose, called post-nasal drip, rolls down the back of the throat, where some of it sticks to the tongue for hours or even days. Bad breath can also come from poor oral hygiene and dental problems, the nasal passages, the tonsils, and hundreds of medical conditions.

Did you start your career studying bad breath?

My PhD was focused on finding out how bacteria that degrade oil after an ocean spill stick to the tiny oil droplets, which they break down to derive energy.

Later, in the early 1980s, I joined the fledgling dental faculty at Tel Aviv University and embarked upon a project with my dentist friend Ervin Weiss to find out whether oral bacteria would also stick to oils. At the time, almost nobody in academia was studying bad breath. And anyway, researchers tended to be industry based and so were not publishing their methods or data.

You discovered that bacteria’s fondness for oil could make for a lucrative breath freshener. How?

Bacteria need to stick to surfaces in the mouth and to one another, to avoid being washed down the throat to the gut where few survive. We developed the notion of “beating adhesion with adhesion”. We figured that if we could also get the bacteria to stick to oil droplets that a person could spit out, we might have a commercial product. Our first idea was an oily toothpaste, but it turned out that this had already been patented, though not successfully produced. So we turned to mouthwash.

The resulting product, called Dentyl pH, is now marketed by the US company Blistex. [Not yet—at least it’s not shown on the Blistex Web site. – LG] It is now one of the top two mouthwash brands in the UK and we plan to market it globally.

What are your top tips for fragrant breath?

First ask a trusted family member to what extent you suffer from the problem: it may not be as bad as you think. Gargle mouthwash with your tongue sticking out, because it allows the mouthwash to reach the back of your tongue. Don’t use mouthwash straight after brushing because toothpaste contains foaming soap, which takes some of the mouthwash’s effective ingredients out of commission by binding to them.

The best time is just before bed so the mouthwash is active all night. When you sleep, bacteria produce more odours because there is minimal saliva flow to wash them away. Beyond that, clean your tongue, visit the dentist twice a year, avoid coffee and alcohol, eat a good breakfast with rough foods, and remember to floss once a day.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2007 at 1:48 pm

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