No one wants to stink! Think of the billions of dollars Americans spend every year on smelling good. Perfumes, lotions, scented candles, and breath mints are being advertised and sold everywhere you look. The list goes on and on. Have you ever wondered though why you can’t always tell if YOU stink or you have bad mouth odor?

Olfactory senses are highly stimulating to our brains. The whole process is actually pretty intense. Whether it’s a chocolate chip cookie baking in the oven or the locker room at the gym, your smell receptors can detect many things. Once scent molecules are inhaled, they trigger your olfactory receptors in the brain’s limbic system and fragrant magic happens!

Pretty fascinating right? Well even more fascinating than the ability for our noses to detect danger, sense a nearby skunk, or revel in the smell of mom’s baking is a phenomenon called “olfactory adaptation.” It’s the ability for humans to temporarily NOT smell.

Odor receptors actually stop sending messages to the brain about a lingering odor to avoid sensory overload. I’m not sure how well that works when it comes to my son’s football cleats, but I’m not willing to smell them long enough to see when my overload adaptation kicks in!

Our mouths are a big source of scent. From pungent foods to millions of odor-producing bacteria that reside in our mouths, we may not always be able to smell our own mouth odor. Turns out that can be both a good and bad thing. Think about it: If you could smell your own breath every minute of the day you probably wouldn’t ever drink coffee or eat garlic again!

Knowing that your breath could stink and you may not even notice, it’s important to know how to keep the mouth odor to a minimum. Obvious means of minimizing mouth odor are brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once daily.

Oral bacteria use the food we eat to survive. Part of their metabolic mechanism is producing smelly byproducts. Brushing the bacteria off the front and back surfaces and flossing them off in between your teeth helps to minimize mouth odor.

Tongue scraping is a huge odor minimizer as well. Our tongue collects a lot of bacteria in between tiny projections called papilla. Keeping that papilla short and cleaned out with a tongue scraper is ideal for minimizing mouth odor.

Next time you’re in getting your teeth cleaned ask your hygienist for a tongue scraper and more tips on oral malodor. We certainly don’t want your breath to stink, especially if you don’t even know it!

Heather VanVorhis Schumacher & Bauer, Columbus Dental Team, Heather's headshot wearing a teal jacket and white shirt

Author: Heather VanVorhis

Heather VanVorhis has been a practicing dental hygienist for over 15 years. She completed her education at CSCC in 2002. In her spare time Heather likes to spend time with family, bake, and occasionally run — just to burn off all the baked goods!