What Causes Dragon Breath?

By Howard J. Bennett

It’s a cozy Sunday morning as you sneak into your parent’s bedroom for some snuggle time. You carefully slip between your mom and dad feeling the warmth of their bodies. Then your mom turns over, smiles gently and pulls you close for a little kiss. However, instead of the inviting smell you normally associate with your mom, you are enveloped in the foulest breath that has ever left a human body!

How could someone who looks so good on the outside smell so bad on the inside? When you complain about your mom’s breath, she tries to convince you that yours is just as bad. You’re sure she’s dead wrong. After all, when you exhale into your hands and sniff, your breath smells fine.

Is your mom right? Does your morning breath smell just as bad as hers? If it does, whose idea was it to turn the human mouth into a garbage can after a night of blissful sleep?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but your mom is right. It’s a fact that people are unable to smell their own breath. (Anytime you see a character in a movie trying to figure out if he has bad breath, that’s Hollywood talking not real life.)

The human mouth is home to billions of bacteria. These microscopic organisms don’t make you sick, but they grow like weeds on every structure in your mouth: tongue, teeth, gums, cheeks, etc. And like all living things, bacteria produce waste products. It is their waste products that give your parents (and you) such horrible breath in the morning.

People can have bad breath during the day as well, but something happens at night that makes the problem much worse than when you are awake. Because you don’t eat or drink when you sleep, huge numbers of bacteria that would normally be washed down your throat have the opportunity to “party” till dawn. As these bacteria gorge themselves and reproduce, they foul the air around them. However, instead of being mad at these invisible fiends, you should pity them. As soon as you wake up, eat breakfast and brush your teeth, many of them will be swallowed and killed by the acids in your stomach.

Bonus Fact: Bacteria are also responsible for body odor, foot odor and just about every bad smell that comes from the human body. One exception to this rule is pee. Urine is sterile (that means it’s free of germs) and smells bad because it contains a human waste product called urea.


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 6/28/10.)

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please visit Dr. B’s website at  www.howardjbennett.com.