Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Do People Have Difficulty Smelling Our Own Breath Odors?

In our clinic at the Center for Breath Treatment the subject of how one goes about assessing their breath comes up every day. We hear numerous methods being used by patients, and most of these are the same methods that you will read about on the Internet. People also tend to be very convinced that these methods are accurate, but what we find is that almost all of these methods are improper methods to use and often provide misinformation about what one’s breath odor is actually like. The bottom line is that an individual does not have the ability to accurately assess their own breath odors no matter how good their sense of smell is. Patients frequently asked us why they couldn’t smell their own breath accurately and there are a number of reasons for this.

The majority of patients who come to see us at the Center For Breath Treatment in the San Francisco Bay Area complain that they experience bad tastes in their mouth much or even all of the time. Sometimes the brain actually can be fooled or confused regarding whether a particular sensory input is an odor or a taste, especially if it is chronic in nature or a particularly strong in nature. Your nose and mouth are connected as are the senses of smell and taste, and because of this your sensory system must learn to ignore certain odors that are constantly there. Your breath odor is a good example of one of thee odors. Another issue is that our nasal passages and sinuses naturally harbor bacteria that have the ability to produce malodors. Under normal conditions this is not usually something that is perceived by an individual, but those individuals that have bouts of even mild congestion due to hay fever or allergies can start to sense odors in their nasal passages. This occurs because of the decreased ability of the sinuses or nasal passages to drain normally during bouts of even mild congestion. This in turn can result in higher concentrations of anaerobic bacteria within the sinuses that produce very minute odors. Because these bacteria are in close proximity to the nerve endings in the sinuses that detect odors one may become aware of a malodor that is not detectable by anybody else.

Sometimes these minute odors that emanate from the sinuses or nasal passages can be bothersome to an individual. In situations such as that we often recommend a sinus irrigating device to help flush the sinuses and the nasal passages. There are a couple of nasal irrigating devices that can be found in drug stores but we have not found them to be very effective and they tend to be unpleasant to use.

One overriding factor to consider is that as human beings we do not have the ability to sense our own bodily odors very accurately. This stems from an evolutionary adaptation that has occurred to humans. Certain odors just simply do not need to be detected all of the time, and if you could smell your own odors, particularly breath odors, it would be much more difficult to sense other odors around us. In primitive times this could lead to issues affecting our survival in the wild. The mind does have the ability to “filter out” the majority of odors that are around us on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons why we have difficulty accurately smelling our own breath.

About the author: Dr. Anthony Dailley is a practicing dentist that specializes in halitosis treatment. He has been practicing since 1981 and graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Cell & Molecular Biology, and obtained his dental degree from the Pacific School of Dentistry. Dr. Dailley founded the Center for Breath Treatment in the San Francisco Bay Area and conducts research on curing halitosis. Dr. Dailley has also been a founder in a biotech company called NovaBay Pharmaceuticals and on their board of directors from 1997 -2014.
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