A Litmus Test for Bad Breath

June 14, 2018
Category: Uncategorized


Need a quick breath check before your big meeting…or your big date? Well, scientists from South Korea may be able to help. They’ve engineered a portable device that detects even the tiniest trace of hydrogen sulfide…the stuff that smells like rotten eggs that is one of the primary offenders in oral obnoxiousness. Their work appears in the journal Analytical Chemistry. [Jun-Hwe Cha, et al, Sub-Parts-per-Million Hydrogen Sulfide Colorimetric Sensor: Lead Acetate Anchored Nanofibers toward Halitosis Diagnosis]

Bad breath, a.k.a. halitosis, can be more than a social inconvenience. A skunky mouth also may point to some serious underlying medical or dental issues. 

“Early diagnosis is very significant to prolong your healthy life.”

Jun-Hwe Cha of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He says that most of the instruments used for diagnostics are found in clinics or hospitals…which may be tough to get to. And the electronic sensors that are currently used to sniff out various gases require a power source and precise calibration…not easy when you’re out and about.

“So, we came up with a strategy to develop colorimetric gas sensors, which change its color when detecting biomarker gases.”

Think of it as a litmus test for your exhalation. 

To build their sensor, the researchers took lead acetate…a chemical used in some hair dye products that turns brown when exposed to hydrogen sulfide. And they embedded it in a three-dimensional nanofiber web…so the dye would spread out across a large surface area. That distribution gives the sensor the sensitivity it needs to detect trace amounts of H2S.

To test the device, the researchers puffed it with different concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas. And they found that as little as 400 parts per billion of H2S produced a color change that could be seen by the naked eye. Which is about a fifth as much H2S as you’d need to have stank breath. 

They even used the device with real human outgassing. The researchers had volunteers blow into a bag. And they spiked these exhalates with 1000 parts per billion H2S. Again, the bad-breathylizer worked like a charm.

“This sensor showed high potential for simple halitosis diagnosis with your breath anytime anywhere in a very short time.”

The team is now working on similar diagnostic sensors for other vaporous effluvium. It may not sound pretty. But, hey, it’s a gas.

—Karen Hopkin 

(The above text is a transcript of this podcast) 

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