This week, I had the most excruciating bus ride home. It was a most agonising journey that should ordinarily have taken 15 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 19 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 shares 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, says 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 breath, 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.”