Something about bad breath, By Titilayo Olurin

“Your breath says a whole lot about you. … it does only one of two things; allures or appalls.”

This week, I had the most excruciating bus ride home. It was a most agonizing journey that should ordinarily have taken fifteen minutes but seemed to take an eternity. No, my agony did not result from a horrific traffic hold up as you imagine, neither was it the result of a rough and bumpy ride caused by a driver who thought nothing of constantly running into pot holes as he pleased. Was it then the discomfort of being squashed by two plump women? Quite on the contrary; for the first time on a public bus, being squashed was the least of my worries. And why would it not be? If you had to hold your breath each time the woman beside you opened her mouth to speak, especially if she spoke nineteen to a dozen, being squashed would be bliss!

Well, if it is not bad breath!

As you probably guessed, I did not hold my breath for the fun of it but because I was uncomfortable with the unpleasant breath of the woman beside me. Mine is certainly not the most unique of experiences. Busola, a 300 level student of the University of Ibadan shared a similar experience: “Once, in a cab, I sat close to this man whose breath stunk. It was like a combination of beans and egg. It wasn’t funny at all. I held my breath and folded my lips half the time even though he kept talking to me. I bet I’d have passed out if I hadn’t done that.”

While passing out at someone’s unpleasant breath does seem quite unlikely, it is not entirely surprising to have people react the way Busola did. Dorcas Oluremi, a dentist with a private Hospital in Ibadan, said that people react to bad breath in various ways, including “covering their noses, holding their breath or just keeping mute even when spoken to.” Reflex action is what she calls it and not a deliberate attempt to be stuck up or rude. “It’s the same way you react when in a room full of people someone decides to remove his not too often aired shoes. Besides holding your breath, you find yourself looking round to see who is responsible for making you so uncomfortable.”

Bad breath, she says, is also known as halitosis and refers to exhaling unpleasant odours when breathing. “It is totally disagreeable and offensive. That’s why it is called bad breath. If it isn’t bad breathe, then what would you call that smell that’s constantly got others on edge and rubs them of their comfort? What do you call that smell that keeps you holding your breath and even covering your nose?”

So is it really that bad?

Poor oral hygiene is known to be the most common cause of bad breath. It is, however, not the only cause as Oluremi points out, “People assume that everybody with a bad breath is dirty and does not brush properly. But this is not always the case. The thing is everyone has bad breath sometime.”

Many will agree that even those with the best hygiene have their bad days. For instance, what we eat or drink determines the freshness of our breaths. Foods such as onions, garlic, beans, egg, can cause bad breath and so can some alcoholic drinks. Moreover, it is not expected of someone who is just waking up in the morning to have the freshest of breaths, no matter how clean the person is. Research also shows that bad breath can be a result of some hormonal changes, as well as health conditions like liver or kidney problems. Women who are ovulating or menstruating are said to be more susceptible to bad breath during this period. Temitayo, a mother of one admits: “I don’t know if it happens to anybody else but I notice that I usually have to spend more time brushing my tongue when I’m menstruating than on any other day.”

Because it is offensive and makes other people uncomfortable, bad breath should be taken care of. Often times though, people are unaware of their bad breaths and are oblivious to the discomfort they cause others when speaking. It is nearly impossible for these ones to keep bad breath in check since they are unaware of it. So how do you know if yours is the breath that attracts people to you or makes people twitch their noses and make funny faces when you speak to them? Temitayo suggests checking your breath with your close friends and family.

“Your close friends and family are the best people to go to if you want the truth about anything except of course, you’re not that close. I’d tell my husband if he had bad breath. He tells me when, for some reason, my breath stinks.”

Sufferers of bad breath that are aware of it – those who are not too nonchalant to care – are usually nervous and uncomfortable or even shy around people. These ones are considerate of others and are ashamed of their breaths, only speaking when necessary. They force their words through slightly parted lips, draw their heads back, cover their mouths or keep you at arm’s length when speaking with you. But the good news is that they do not have to do this much longer. Oluremi suggests a number of steps to take to end or prevent bad breath.

Get rid of that awful smell

“The first key to stopping bad breath is brushing,” Oluremi says. She suggests brushing twice a day, both in the morning and at night. “You should keep your breath fresh by brushing your teeth regularly. Brush your teeth clean to prevent it from tooth decay, which can ultimately cause bad breath. You should pay particular attention to your tongue. The tongue houses more germs than you’d ever know.” She also recommends flossing, which she says, helps to remove all the food particles lodged between our teeth that cannot be reached by the toothbrush. “If food particles remain lodged between your teeth, they decay and cause foul breath.” She adds that visiting the dentist regularly is a sure way to prevent bad breath. “Your dentist is responsible for figuring out underlying factors for bad breath that might ordinarily go unnoticed by you, such as gum infection and so on.” What many people consider to be the least important is what Oluremi lists as one of the most important. “Your choice of toothpaste is also very important,” she states. “You mustn’t use any and every toothpaste you lay your hands on.”

Drinking a lot of water and eating particular fruits are additional preventive measures that can be taken against bad breath. Some have discovered that carrots and apples are fruits that help maintain fresh breath. Some others are of the opinion that avoiding particular meals or drinks during the day when they have no access to toothbrush also helps keep their breaths fresh. Still others believe that their breath can remain fresh all day if they do not keep their mouths shut for too long. This may seem rather weak but Oluremi confirms that “dry mouth encourages bacteria which in turn lead to bad breath, so besides drinking a lot of water, try talking to get air in your mouth.” Also, chewing gums with mint can help your breath feel fresh if you have a long day at work or elsewhere.

Above all, lead a healthy life style. Avoid binge drinking and smoking as much as you possibly can. If none of these suggestions work for you, then you might need to see your doctor. There is just something about bad breath that does not stick well with people. Need I say why? Then taking steps to prevent it is worth your effort. Your breath says a whole lot about you. Remember, it does only one of two things; allures or appalls. So what will you have yours do?

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