Updated: 2/24/2020 Not even cheap dental insurance can cure bad breath. Have you ever wondered what causes bad breath? Do you avoid speaking with people after a meal until you…

Bad Breath 101 – An Interview with Dr. Katz

Updated: 2/24/2020

Not even cheap dental insurance can cure bad breath. Have you ever wondered what causes bad breath? Do you avoid speaking with people after a meal until you have a piece of gum safely in your mouth? People have speculated about halitosis (bad breath) for years, but many common solutions just don’t work.

Dr. Katz developed the Therabreath line of oral hygiene products and founded the California Breath Clinics. In addition to dentistry, he also studied bacteriology. He graciously agreed to share some of his research on the causes and cures of bad breath with 1Dental. Whether you already have bad breath or you just want to learn how to best prevent it, this helpful interview is your guide to halitosis.

How long have you been in dentistry?

I graduated from the UCLA School of Dentistry in 1975. So that’s 35 years as a dentist. I also have a degree in Bacteriology (also from UCLA) which turned out to be very helpful in creating therapies for bad breath.

What made you start focusing on bad breath issues?

Back around 1994, my own daughter, who was 13 at the time, came home from school in tears. She was very upset because friends in her carpool had been offering gum and mints day in and day out for several weeks. She sensed that they were hinting she had bad breath, but they never made a direct comment. On this particular day, she thought she would “outsmart” them by chewing some gum on the ride home. But, her gum chewing did not help her bad breath issue and they offered her gum once more.

When she got home she was very upset. She asked me point blank, “Daddy, do I have bad breath?” I did notice that her breath was very stale, but I understood that she had just spent 2 hours at basketball practice. What was most shocking was that her tongue was no longer pink, but was white and had a coating on it. That moment became a turning point in my life, because I realized that there was a link between her mouth becoming dry (after basketball practice or after a game) and when her friends offered her gum and mints (hinting she had bad breath). Furthermore, the condition of her tongue – the whiteness and coating – led me to contact a buddy of mine still at UCLA in the Bacteriology department.

His report, a few days later, was mind-blowing. My daughter had an overabundance of anaerobic sulfur-producing bacteria. These are not infectious “bad” bacteria. They are bacteria that everyone has in their mouth, but (as I later learned) they become more predominant when the mouth is dry.

Within a few weeks, I had started research on bad breath, in order to help my daughter. I had also made contact with the manufacturer of the Halimeter (the clinical instrument that measures the concentration of Volatile Sulfur Compounds in the breath).

After tinkering with various formulas to help my daughter, I came across an oxygenating compound, called OXYD-8, which prevents the anaerobic bacteria from creating nasty odors and also destroys mouth odors instantly. I eventually acquired patents on the use of OXYD-8 in oral care products and by the end of 1994, my TheraBreath Oxygenating Formulas were born. All because of my daughter’s bad breath problem.

By the end of 1995, I had already established clinics in 7 cities, whose primary focus was to diagnose and treat bad breath.

What exactly is halitosis, and what causes it?

Halitosis is the technical term for bad breath, which is NOT caused directly by odorous foods. This is actually the most common type of bad breath and is actually caused by anaerobic bacteria as they break down proteins in the saliva, foods, or oral care tissue as it breaks down (such as gum disease).

Certain conditions exacerbate this problem:

  • Dry Mouth: Because saliva is nature’s way of keeping your breath fresh (think of baby’s breath and why babies rarely have bad breath). Healthy saliva contains a high concentration of oxygen, which is the natural enemy of anaerobic bacteria. Dry Mouth can be caused by many things:
  1. Diabetes: Dry Mouth is one of  the main side effects of Diabetes
  2. Alcohol: In adult beverages as well as strong-tasting mouthwashes, which often contain more alcohol than adult beverages. One leading mouthwash is 27% alcohol!
  3. Medicine: About 75% of medicines have dry mouth as a side effect. They include high blood pressure, antihistamines and antidepressants.
  4. Smoking: That includes cigarettes and more significantly marijuana. Marijuana smokers may notice a condition known as “cotton mouth” which happens because THC, the active component in cannabis, has the ability to clog the salivary ducts, making the mouth very dry.
  5. Morning breath: When you sleep at night, your brain knows that you will not be eating at the same time. Consequently, healthy saliva production is zero or minimal. Without saliva production, we lose the natural ability to keep the anaerobic bacteria in check (remember, oxygen – found in healthy saliva – is the natural enemy of anaerobic sulfur-producing bacteria). That is why you wake in the morning smelling like a sulfur factory. HINT: To overcome this problem, a research project we did recently showed that using TheraBreath Oral Rinse and Toothpaste right before bedtime kept the mouth oxygenated during sleep, providing a fresh, clean, kissable mouth upon wakening.
  6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: This strange-sounding chemical is actually SOAP. Unfortunately, you would never consider brushing your teeth with soap, but billions of people do it every day because it’s a very common component in most toothpaste formulas. It was put into basic toothpaste formulas over 100 years ago in order to create a foaming action so that consumers “believe” something is happening in their mouth as they brush. It is completely unnecessary for oral health. But, since it is a very harsh soap, two unfortunate side effects may take place: Dry Mouth (remember, this is SOAP) and canker sores. Studies show that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate literally eats away at the lining of the mouth, causing micro damage – otherwise known as painful canker sores.
  • High-Protein Diets: The mechanism by which the bacteria create odors is by the breakdown of proteins. During this breakdown, the “bugs” convert certain amino acids into odorous chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide (the rotten egg smell). Other chemicals found in bad breath are Cadaverine and Putrescine (the smells of death and rotting flesh). These include:
  1. Dairy foods: High in the proteins loved by these bacteria
  2. Whey protein used by body builders: Very dense dairy proteins
  • Mucus: Mucus and post nasal drip are actually proteins, which provide fuel for the bacteria. That is why children, when they are sick, have that “sick smell” on their breath. Same thing with adults.
  • Tonsil Stones: This is something that is rarely discussed but is so common. If you have them, you’ll soon know what I mean. If you have large tonsils with deep crevices (cryptic tonsils), as well as post nasal drip, you have the ability to create tonsil stones within the nooks and crannies of your tonsils. Technically known as “tonsilloliths” (Greek for tonsil stone), they smell terrible and are very difficult to remove. In most cases they are dislodged when they become too large for the crypt in which they grow, usually by coughing. HINT: I created a Tonsil Stone Kit which dissolves them easily – without any surgery (some surgeons urge laser surgery, etc. – which is overkill). The Tonsil  Stone Kit can be found at www.therabreath.com.
  • Foods: Certain foods already contain sulfur compounds similar to those found in bacterially produced Halitosis. They include garlic, onions and curry. On the other hand, there are certain foods that interact with the sulfur-producing bacteria. As mentioned earlier, dairy foods are a problem. Others include sugar-based foods. Sugar feeds the bacteria that create bad breath. “Sugar” can include sucrose, glucose, corn syrup and also fructose.

What is the traditional view of bad breath? What makes your findings unique?

For many years, people had the false belief that bad breath originated in the stomach. This is totally false.  As stated before, the anaerobic sulfur producing bacteria, breeding beneath the surface of the tongue and also  in the throat and tonsil area, create volatile sulfur compounds under various conditions. The odors of bad breath do not originate in the digestive system. Muscles which line your esophagus prevent those digestive odors from escaping.   Otherwise, every time you bent over to tie your shoes, your digested food would slide out of your mouth!

From time to time, we hear some of the old myths about bad breath, which have all been debunked. They include using colonics as a cure for bad breath as well as chewing on parsley to relieve bad breath. The theory is that chlorophyll in parsley reverses bad breath production. This is not true. Chlorophyll is beneficial only if you are a plant. Humans need oxygenating compounds to reverse bad breath.

Are you still doing research, or are you focusing more on your product and your clinic right now?

We are always doing research on bad breath, as well as on related oral care problems such as dry mouth, gum disease, tooth decay and sore throats.

Our most recent discovery will be launched to the public this spring at Walgreens. We are introducing a probiotic therapy to help with bad breath, gum disease, tooth decay and tooth sensitivity. It contains a blend of two probiotics, specifically targeting oral and throat health (as opposed to “gut” bacteria, such as those in yogurt). These probiotics, known as S. salivarius K12 and M18 produce a special protein and enzymes that keep the mouth much healthier. You can find more information on our website:  www.therabreath.com

What are some worst-case-scenarios that you’ve run into at your clinic?

At my clinic in Sacramento, I once had a physician come to the office. I knew he had bad breath the second he walked into the office – not the dental operatory, but the waiting room, which was about 60 feet away from where I was standing. He was “forced” to come for diagnosis and therapy because his patients were not returning to his office. His staff said that they requested to see his associate on follow-up visits because his breath was so bad. During the diagnosis part of his visit, he was tested with my Halimeter. This clinical instrument measures the concentration of Volatile Sulfur Compounds in the breath. Any reading over 100 parts per billion (ppb) basically means that their breath is unpleasant. The highest reading on the instrument is 2,000. The lowest is ZERO. Two-thirds of the population generally register between 20 -100.

This patient blew 1,800! By far, the highest reading I have ever seen on my Halimeter…and I’ve tested over 50,000 people. His tongue was extremely coated with sulfur and bacterial debris. His problem: Besides poor oral hygiene, he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and drank two bottles of wine daily. That combination made his mouth extremely dry and exacerbated an already overpopulated tongue population of anaerobic bacteria.

However, on his next visit two weeks later, his numbers were down to the ‘90’s after he was instructed on proper oral hygiene with TheraBreath Oral Rinse and Toothpaste as well as using our lozenges to keep his mouth moist. He also cut down dramatically on his smoking and alcohol intake.

Another memorable case was a young woman I met in Salt Lake City. She was in her early 20’s and smelled strongly of cigarette smoke when I first met her. My hunch was that her smoking was the cause of the problem. However, she only took up smoking as an “excuse.” As a Mormon she was not supposed to smoke, but her chronic bad breath (caused by a very rough tongue which trapped more bacteria) was so repulsive to her family, she took up smoking as the “excuse” as to why she had bad breath. She felt it was much more socially acceptable to have “smoker’s breath” than to have “halitosis.” After showing her how to clean her tongue by gently brushing with a soft nylon bristled brush covered with TheraBreath toothpaste, she finally gave up her smoking habit and returned to school and to life.

But by far, the most dramatic case was a fellow in his mid 20’s who had been plagued by bad breath since childhood. He was constantly insulted as a child with name calling and pointing. In college, he became a social pariah. He thought that he would outgrow this problem in adult hood, but when he entered the job market, he was constantly told that he was qualified for the job, but that he would not be hired because of his “hygiene.” When he was fortunate to get hired, he was soon fired after complaints by coworkers. He told me this during his first office visit and then showed me the slash marks on his wrist. He actually tried to commit suicide because bad breath had infiltrated his psyche. His treatment took a bit longer because his confidence was totally shot, but he eventually got a job with a computer company just outside of Los Angeles without any negative comments for the first time in his life.

What is your favorite part about your job?

By far, my favorite part is hearing success stories and how TheraBreath users have regained their confidence. Allow me to share some email comments with you (individuals’ names and contact info have been deleted for obvious reasons, but I can assure you that these are real comments from real people).

  • Happy New Year to you and your family. May God’s blessings continue to be with you all. The meeting went just fine. Thanks for asking. I met a lot of new people and introduced your product to them. I’ve been able to sit in church and not worry about my breath. What a Blessing it’s been. Thank you and God Bless!
  • My eight year old daughter started using your products about two weeks ago. You’ve created a miracle. No more problems with breath! I can’t believe how simple it was to eliminate her problem. Thank goodness for the internet and finding you. She will never stop using your products. Thank you for continued interest in her progress. Life is great for an eight year old beautiful girl!
  • I was so delighted with the clean taste in my mouth that I experienced the instant after I used the oral rinse for the first time. The next morning I threw away all the Icebreaker sugarless gum, the Breathsavers, Certs, Altoids and Listerine that I had in my home. I don’t need any of those products ever again. I’m serious!!!! I can’t thank you enough for you taking the time to research this problem and developing a cure that actually works. I am now confident when I talk to people and they don’t back away.

What would you recommend as the best way to prevent bad breath?

The #1 tip we give everyone is to make sure you drink plenty of water. The goal is to help replenish natural saliva. People should drink between 6-8 glasses of water daily and by water, I mean H2O – not beer or Diet Pepsi.

Secondly, follow basic oral hygiene at home:

  • Brush your teeth for two minutes (make sure to use non-SLS toothpaste for your teeth and tongue).
  • Brush your tongue gently for a few seconds every time you brush your teeth.
  • Floss at least once daily (twice is significantly better). You need to remove food particles, which can act as a fuel source for the bacteria.

Use an oxygenating mouthwash. Never use alcohol-based mouthwash.

To learn more about Dr. Katz and his research on halitosis, you can visit his website.

Have you ever struggled with bad breath? Do you have any more questions about halitosis?

  1. Hi, ive been suffering for bad breath for years and doctors and dentist cant help me. Can you? I maintain a good oral hygene and i am willing to l
    Pay any kind of money to cure it. Also does oraltech labs really work?

    • Hi Isaiah, from what I have heard, Oraltech Labs is successful in improving the problem, but does not always completely cure it. You can always try Dr. Katz’s Therabreath products or check out this post for more ideas on getting rid of bad breath.

  2. I suffer also from bad breath during my early years due to damage and bad teeth, once I visit a dentist and do a tooth extraction, somehow it lessen or shall we say solved the problem. Food is one reason why we can suffer bad breath though we can deal with it by brushing our teeth daily and use a good toothbrush and toothpaste, flossing can also help in having a good oral health.

  3. I have tried almost all home remedies .. From water n salt to hydrogen peroxide and water rinse. ,.. Tongue scraping .. Under tongue on sides on roof … Flossing… I brush my teeth sometimes 4 times a day ANC even right after I feel I have bad breath… I see my dentist on regular basis I get my teeth cleaned every 6 months.. I don’t know what else to do… I’m single and I feel I can’t date cause of my bad breath .. I’m on a tight budget so I can’t spend slot of money .. Please help! Thanks in advance Laura

    • Hi Laura! Have you talked to your dentist about this problem? They may have some suggestions for you that could help. Drinking water regularly can also help eliminate bad breath short-term.

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  8. hope this helps you. I had awful bad breath and tonsil stones. thank god my only friend told me to check Oraltech Labs advice as it got rid of her bad breath and her post nasal drip. I’ve been following Oraltech Labs advice for about 4 months now and I feel much better, also at work people are not avoiding me anymore so it seems to have cured my bad breath as well, so good luck. Jenny NY

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  10. I have been treating halitosis since 1993; I have treated thousands of people with a 94% success rate. From dental and scientific studies there is only one cure to halitosis, you have to get to the root of the problem. It’s about chemistry not any one specific product. Sure you need to use a chlorine Dioxide rinse, but the brand does not matter its how you use it. Scrapping or brushing the tongue does help but you have to get to the base of the issue. The tongue has hairs called papilla, you have to clean the base and all the soft tissue of the oral cavity and then you have now a defense mechanism. Think of pulling weeds; if you do not take the root out the weeds keep growing. Or think of an aquarium, you have to get under the gravel to take the garbage out. We use a special irrigation device to get under the papilla with the chlorine dioxide rinse (no specific brand, especially non with alcohol) and once you get to the root of the problem we then irrigate the surface, we then measure the amount of bacteria that are creating this issue with what’s called an Orachroma device and that will give us an exact reading. This is an exact science and should be treated this way. We all have the same bacteria ( as I) but some of us have greater amounts of it and has to be treated more aggressively. Go to my web site on halitosis GlenviewDentistry and see the section on halitosis. Hope this helps.

    • Thank you for the helpful explanation, Dr. Schneider. I agree, it seems that getting to the root of the problem rather than just masking it would be far more effective at eliminating halitosis.

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  13. This is very interesting. I never knew there were so many reasons for bad breath. My 3 year old has terrible breath but I think some of it may have to do with his medications. I was worried he had cavities even though we help him brush and floss daily. This article has given me some more to think about. Thanks!

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