By Murdo MacLeod
Scientists have found previously unidentified families of bacteria that contribute to an age-old problem: bad breath.
Experts on the trail of a cure for halitosis have found the bugs in the back of people’s mouths by using new techniques for gathering and analysing bacteria.
The Glasgow University researchers also believe they have isolated the families of bugs responsible for creating bad breath and say the next step will be finding a way to stop the bacteria from producing bad odours.
UK consumers spend £100m a year on breath-freshening mouthwashes and another £18m on chewing gum and sprays to make their mouths smell better.
The three-year study was carried out by a team of experts at Glasgow University Dental School. They analysed the bacteria on the tongues of 20 halitosis sufferers, using new techniques which can examine traces of bacteria DNA.
The study found 39 new kinds of bacteria around the back of the tongue alone, adding to the 700 strains already known about. The new kinds of bacteria have been classified according to what kinds of known bacteria they are most similar to.
The experts found that individuals with bad breath had more of the previously unidentified bacteria than those without halitosis. They also found a link between two known families of bacteria and odours in the mouth.
The named and shamed groups of bacteria have the scientific names Prevotella melaninogenica and Prevotella pallens.
Dr Marcello Riggio, an expert in microbiology at the dental school, said: “What we have done here is work out which families of bacteria seem to be responsible for bad breath. The key now is to find out how to neutralise the reactions which cause the nasty smelly compounds.
“Most mouthwashes don’t actually cure bad breath, they just mask the smell with something else. There are washes which contain strong antiseptics, which kill bacteria, but you can’t use them for long periods of time.”
Image consultant Irene Milner, of Edinburgh-based Lifestyle Matters, said: “It would be wonderful news if they could make real progress on a remedy for bad breath. It does make a big difference to the impression you make on people. You have one and a half minutes to make that impression and bad breath is a real turn-off.”
Dr Garry Blakely, of Edinburgh University’s Institute of Cell Biology, said: “We probably know about 1% of all the bacteria out there. And we probably know about all the nastiest ones. We should regard this diversity as a great resource for pharmaceuticals and all kinds of other applications.”