Because halitosis has only recently become a serious area of scientific and medical research, tests to monitor bad breath have also been slow in coming. Traditionally, the only way to check whether you had halitosis was to ask someone, preferably a doctor or dentist, to smell your breath and offer an opinion. This method is subjective and affected by the temporary effects of such things as food odors, tobacco, and even breath mints, and responses vary depending on the sensitivities of the informant. An objective, professional approach to assessing breath odor has been wanting for a long time, but a few methods are now available.
The most technical of the tests to monitor bad breath to date is the halimeter® by Interscan Corporation, a device that analyzes breath samples for volatile sulfur compounds (the gaseous breakdown products of oral bacteria known to be associated with breath odor). Using the halimeter® for halitosis measurement involves placing a straw in the mouth and waiting while the machine takes in a fifteen second air sample, which it then analyzes for the gases hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, and dimethyl sulfide. It then provides a measurement of the gases present in parts per billion (ppb). Because everyone probably has some of these bacteria and therefore minimal levels of these gases, results are interpreted according to how many ppb typically result in a detectable odor in the air.
The halimeter® for halitosis measurement can analyze mouth air, nose air and even lung air, depending on the sampling procedure used. This is helpful because, although most breath odor originates in the mouth, there are situations where a problem exists in the lungs or nasal sinuses, and in these cases, air samples from different locations help narrow down the problem. Clearly, compared to tests to monitor bad breath that can't differentiate between possible origins of the odor, the instrument provides superior results.
Using the halimeter® for halitosis measurement is not foolproof. The procedure must be performed correctly and certain things can interfere with test results (carefully follow all instructions to abstain from smoking, eating, drinking, brushing, chewing gum etc. before the test.). In some cases the gases involved with breath malodor are not the three volatile sulfur compounds that the instrument measures. Nonetheless, for most people, this is the test of choice. Other tests to monitor bad breath include gas chromatography, a difficult and specialized test impractical for routine use; and organoleptic measurement, where the human nose remains the testing instrument but an effort is made to remove the inherent subjectivity.