07/07/2011 04:50 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2011

Bad Breath -- More Than Just a Pain?

To most of us, bad breath is an annoyance at most. However, there are some instances where bad breath is more than just something to be mindful of.

One article tells of a 30-year-old man name Li Fuyan from the Yunnan Province in southern China that was admitted to Yuxi City People's Hospital complaining of headaches, bad breath and difficulty breathing. The man's skull was x-rayed and the results showed that Fuyan had a knife blade in his head!

The Associated Press states that the blade appeared to have entered under the right side of the man's jaw, near his neck. Miraculously, it didn't severe any nerves or major arteries when penetrating his skull. Fuyan recalled being stabbed in a robbery four years before, but had no idea that the blade had snapped off and remained in his skull. It if wasn't for his halitosis, he may have never found out! Bad breath can sometimes be indicative of a more serious medical condition such as diabetes, acid reflux or kidney failure. If you are suffering from a severe case of bad breath, it's best that you check in with your doctor -- even though it's unlikely that you have bad breath due to an embedded knife blade.

Many people suffer from periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease) and some may not even know they have it. While gingivitis may be treated with proper oral care, the more advanced periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, halitosis and severe inflammation. In an effort to decrease the number of people with this disease, a recent article states that a team of researchers has suggested making a vaccine to prevent gum disease.

Now this isn't exactly a new idea. There have been recent advances in oral care probiotics that can help your body's resistance to gum disease. A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology in 2006 found that applying the microbe Streptococcus salivarius to the tongue and oral cavity greatly reduced bad breath. A more recent study was published in the journal, Vaccine. Researchers took oral flora samples from almost 200 people. Fusobacterium nucleatum was one common variety found and was thus targeted for therapy.

This microorganism acts like a net, holding other bacteria together in a film. These films can lead to gum disease. To quell this, the team introduced a modified strain of E. coli which attacked surface proteins on F. nucleatum. The results were a significant (but not complete) improvement in symptoms of periodontal disease and bad breath. While these findings are still being looked at further, perhaps one day it will be commonplace to get a gum disease vaccine.

Three meals a day are the standard, but in reality many of us snack in addition to -- or in replacement of -- meals. According to one article, a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered that almost 42 percent of participants eat snacks between meals three or more times a day. As you probably already know, meals (or snacks) that contain garlic, onion or coffee can really cause some stinky breath. It's typical to brush one's teeth two times a day -- so the majority of people don't clean their teeth after snacking.

The survey also stated that most people choose snacks are predominantly sugar-based. In fact, 39 percent of the average participant's sugar intake came from snacks, not meals or desserts after meals. Snacking may affect cardiovascular, digestive and oral health. While it may kick your metabolism into gear, constant snacking also means that the tongue and teeth are being coated with food particles. Halitosis is caused by oral bacteria using these remnants of food to create odors. Snacks that contain sugar can also lead to tooth decay if the mouth is not properly cleansed after noshing. Tartar and cavities can lead to discomfort and oral complications as well as bad breath. So the next time you're munching away at your desk in the early afternoon, you may want to run to the bathroom afterwards to do a quick brush and rinse or carry a specialty breath fresheners such as sugar-free gums or mints with you.

Do you think you have a sensitive nose? Well according to one article, pea aphids are extremely sensitive to the humidity in mammalian breath -- yes, that includes us.

Aphids are those tiny, green insets that are often the nemesis of farmers. A study in the Journal of Current Biology found that by detecting the humidity in mammalian breath, aphids are able to avoid being eaten by plant-consuming animals. In order to find out if halitosis warns aphids that accidental predators are near, a team of researchers at the University of Haifa had a goat consume alfalfa plants teeming with aphids. The team even went so far to make sure their own breath wasn't a factor as to wear snorkels! The researchers controlled movement, air humidity and shadows and found that breath itself is what warns the aphids that a predator is near. The team initially theorized that expelling carbon dioxide was the trigger; they actually found that it was the heat and humidity of breath that alerted the insects of encroaching danger. As we stated earlier, breath can also alert humans to disease. Halitosis can be a result of excess bacteria in the mouth, tooth decay, gum disease (gingivitis), lung diseases or sinusitis. Who knew that tiny aphids were also able to detect (bad) breath?

Speaking of animals, an article mentions one four-legged friend that is having trouble finding a home due to his extreme cause of chronic bad breath. The UK Daily Mail ran a story about a rescued greyhound named Tommy, located in Essex. He's been overlooked by over 300 potential new owners all due to his halitosis. Tommy's foul breath was originally cause by an immune system problem. Luckily, current caretaker Elaine Sheppard has given him his recommended course of antibiotics to boost his immune levels and treat gum infection. Sadly, this therapy didn't relieve Tommy of his doggie breath. This amazing dog has been trained to gargle once daily with doggie mouthwash. Hopefully Tommy will find a home soon with his new found gargling techniques.

From an orphaned canine to a case of a knife blade in the head, bad breath can be a major issue. Next time you're snacking away be sure to be mindful of your own oral care; and if you are suffering from a serious case of bad breath, don't just ignore it as it may be something worth your attention.