WASHINGTON—Responding to a foul stench emanating from the mouths of Americans nationwide, officials from the U.S. Department of Breath and Human Services issued an emergency announcement Tuesday warning that American breath quality has been elevated to "stank mouth," the poorest single rating in the nation's 231-year history.

DBHS Secretary Michael Leavitt shields reporters from his coffee mouth.

In a solemn announcement, DBHS Secretary Michael Leavitt informed the nation that his organization initially considered ignoring the findings, believing that the situation would resolve itself after the next routine tooth-brushing.

"After several days with no improvement in odor, it became painfully clear that this agency simply had to say something," Leavitt said.

Leavitt maintained that DBHS is doing all it can and will continue to observe the worsening crisis from at least three feet away.

Added Leavitt, "I am compelled to ask the American people: What did you eat?"

Attempting to handle the awkward national emergency in the most delicate manner, health officials at first theorized that everyone in the country had been out late the night before and did not have a chance to freshen up in the morning. But after more than 400,000 uncomfortable conversations, officials deemed it necessary to notify the American public in order to prevent the loss of more social lives.

"We can no longer afford to turn our heads away and ignore this problem," Leavitt said.

Leavitt urged all Americans to accept a breath mint or a stick of gum, or, if such items are not available, a carbonated drink, which he claimed was not clinically proven to be an effective remedy, although there is some evidence that the carbon dioxide molecules may in effect "burn away" stink germs temporarily.

Despite the urgency and magnitude of DBHS's announcement, some critics maintain that the response has been shortsighted and only aimed at making the problem temporarily smell like mint. Some even claim the putrid smell might already be irreversible.

"This Band-Aid approach will work, but only for a few hours at most," said Walter Romano, D.D.S., a Cleveland-area dentist who has begun handing out free toothbrushes and stickers depicting sound oral hygiene to residents in his area. "This country hasn't flossed in years. In fact, I believe some people have even made the ill-advised decision to gargle not with mouthwash, but almost exclusivley with dog shit."

Others claim the problem is even worse than health officials are letting on.

"This is a full-blown stenchademic," said Dr. Guy Hammond, a leading researcher of smelliness, who added that the catastrophe will only worsen with dinner approaching. "Before long, the U.S. will surpass even Britain as the nation with the worst breath in the Western world."

A Tempe, AZ resident’s mouth is sanitized by emergency oral hygiene workers.

According to an independent study conducted by Hammond, the percentage of Americans whose breath could scare the stink off a skunk increased dramatically over the past year, from 17 percent to 29 percent, while the number of citizens whose breath could peel paint off the wall went up from 23 percent to 45 percent. The remainder of Americans, the study found, had breath so bad it could sink a battleship.

While no direct cause has been determined for the sudden spike in ass-mouth, officials believe it may be connected to a combination of garlic, onion, meat, cheese, tobacco, coffee, alcohol, plaque, laziness, and bodily fluids.

With initial tests showing the rancid odor to be virtually impervious to multiple applications of Big Red, Leavitt said his agency is urging citizens to avoid inhaling through their noses, and cover their mouths when they talk.

"Sadly, millions of Americans were raised to believe they could cup their hand and put it over their face to smell their breath," Leavitt told reporters. "But our top scientists and health experts informed me personally about 20 minutes ago that this method does not work."

DBHS has embarked on a widespread campaign to eliminate the deadly odors found in almost every mouth in the country.  Refreshing relief has been slow to come, however: Efforts to deliver 30,000 gallons of ACT rinse to the hardest-hit regions of the country have stalled because so many National Guardsmen are already deployed in Iraq and the rest refused to go anywhere near the most troubled cities. In addition, attempts by FEMA workers to distribute Tic Tacs to citizens in Alabama and Texas also failed when hundreds were injured attempting to open the plastic boxes' flip-action lids. 

On Wednesday, officials at the Center for Gum Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to quarantine those with the severest halitosis, though they warned that concentrating so much rotting breath in one place could make the entire nation puke simultaneously.