A Gentleperson’s Guide to Checking Breath on the Go

Simple Tips to keep Halitosis at Bay.

You’ve been there before: stuck in a conversation with a person when you realize that their breath is…off-putting. You’d probably like to flee, but it can be difficult to leave a conversation without seeming like a flake. You’d offer them a mint to give them a hint, but you’re fresh out of Tic Tacs. Maybe you take a few steps back. Maybe you breathe into your lemon garnish on your drink. Maybe you spot an acquaintance and can make a graceful, purposeful exit, and deeply inhale air that is unfettered by the stale smell of halitosis. Freedom.

But after a bad breath encounter, have you ever wondered what other people were smelling when they were talking to you? It’s difficult to know for sure what our breath smells like to others, unless you’re fresh off a tooth and tongue brushing. High five. So how can you tell how your breath smells without drawing too much attention to yourself?

Why can’t we smell our own breath?

Have you ever walked into a space and gotten hit with a bad smell, perhaps from a garbage can? You’ve probably noticed that over time the smell goes away. This can be, in part, due to dissipation of odors in air—think about when you first spray a room freshener and the smell can be quite strong, but soon fades as the scent molecules spread out in air. But the reason it seems like the smell goes away is often because you become used to it, having smelled it for an extended time. For example, you might walk into a kitchen with a smelly garbage can, acclimate, leave the kitchen, and return, only to be affected by the original smell again. It can often surprise you, thinking that the smell had gone away. But, it was really your nose playing a trick on you.

The same is true of our breath. Our nose often ignores background smells, even though they are there. Although smells that originate in our mouths pass directly to our noses (think about how taste and smell are intertwined senses), it’s all background odor to the nose. This is why a person with bad-smelling breath may have no idea!

Does coughing in your hand and smelling do anything?

Ah, the old standby—a quick cough and sniff, and the person you’re talking to may not have a clue you’re checking your breath. Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t do too much. In fact, you usually can’t discern any bad breath smells from this effort, which can lure you into a false sense of breath security, and nobody wants that.  

Instead, there are a few easy breath tests that you can do, ranging from pretty discreet to maybe-do-this-one-in-private. These are surefire ways to give you a sense of how your breath really smells, so you can confidently converse without needing to rummage for a piece of gum in your pocket.

Like a postage stamp!

The easiest way to do a bad breath check is to lick the inside of your wrist, wait a few seconds for the saliva to dry, and sniff. This will give a pretty good indication of what people will smell when they’re talking to you. Of course, we don’t advise you to do this while you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone—even if they don’t know what you’re doing, they probably will find the behavior odd—but it can be done pretty quickly and discreetly. If you don’t get too much of an odor from the postage stamp test, you’re likely in the clear, or any breath issues are very minor and likely not detectable from those around you. If you do get an unpleasant odor, it means your breath is not smelling its freshest, and you’re due to brush your teeth and tongue. If you don’t have access to a toothbrush and toothpaste (or sink for that matter), drink a glass or two of water. Opt for gum instead of mint, as chewing gum activates saliva, which helps your mouth clean itself.

Another kind of spooning

If licking your wrist did not help identify your potential halitosis issues, another easy test you can do involves a little more privacy. Take a teaspoon and turn it face down.  Place the spoon gently at the back of your tongue and pull it forward, against the tongue. This should be gentle enough that it is not painful, but should be firm enough to collect film off of the tongue. Turn the spoon over, and look at what the spoon collected. If it’s a clear liquid, you’re probably pretty fresh. If you’re looking at thick white or dark-colored residue, you are probably having some breath issues. To know for sure, smell the spoon. If you haven’t been regularly cleaning your tongue, there’s a chance that this will smell quite bad. And, it will probably indicate clearly what others smell when they talk to you up close. That’s a pretty good reason to start brushing your tongue as part of your oral hygiene routine. If the smell is not bad, you should feel confident that your breath smells okay. Get chatting.

For the love of floss

Do you carry dental floss on you? If you don’t, this easy breath trick might convince you to pack some floss in your purse or backpack. Insert dental floss between two teeth toward the back of your mouth. Sniff the floss. Does it smell neutral? Bad? If it smells bad, it’s a good indication that your breath could be fresher. And, because you just used dental floss, you’re probably in a bathroom and can do a quick rinse with some water to help flush out bad odor. A little more involved than the postage stamp, a little less intense than the spoon scrape, this floss test is a good technique if you can quickly step into a private space like a restroom.

Keep it fresh

The best way to keep your breath fresh? Regular brushing (including the tongue) and flossing. Be sure to drink a lot of water too, as this stimulates saliva production, which helps the mouth self clean.

Check out goby.co to check out our new brush kits—the perfect companion to your fresh breath.