Aromas, Odours, Fragrances, Memories and Emotions

Our sense of smell is extremely clever and is able to evoke its own form of déjà vu. Smells are very evocative and often we may have completely forgotten an event but a faint aroma transports our thoughts and brings a memory back instantly. It may be a washing line full of fresh laundry taking you back to your grandmother's scullery, a wood full of bluebells reminding you of your first love or the stench of a tyre factory transporting you back to your university town. A few airborne molecules can trigger vivid recollections that can be very powerful.

Our sense of smell is extremely clever and is able to evoke its own form of déjà vu. Smells are very evocative and often we may have completely forgotten an event but a faint aroma transports our thoughts and brings a memory back instantly. It may be a washing line full of fresh laundry taking you back to your grandmother's scullery, a wood full of bluebells reminding you of your first love or the stench of a tyre factory transporting you back to your university town. A few airborne molecules can trigger vivid recollections that can be very powerful.

Neurologists believe that smells trigger memories because the olfactory nerve which carries messages from the nostrils to the brain is located very close to the amygdala and hippocampus, parts of the brain which are closely associated with emotion and memory respectively. Smells evoke emotions as well as memories; for example, candyfloss and popcorn at the fairground may make us feel happy and free. Similarly, at a scary moment we may be able to smell fear in the air. American scientists believe that our sense of smell becomes more active when we are scared and our nostrils act as an early warning system1. Sensory cells learn to associate some smells with fear even before the message has reached the brain.

Pleasant fragrances and bad odours both remain 'etched' in our brains. However a study reported in the journal Current Biology by Dr Yeshurun2 revealed that we find it easier to remember unpleasant smells rather than pleasant ones. He also stated that the power of early associations is enhanced when odours were disagreeable. It is thought that unpleasant smells may trigger stronger memories and are heightened because our ancestors were dependent on this sense to avoid poisonous plants, rotten food or enemies.

Our own smells are also complex; each person's natural scent is an expression of the genes that make up their immune system. It has been found people tend to prefer body odours of others with profiles that are different, but not too different from their own. We are able to identify bad smells quickly when they are coming from other people but it is difficult to smell ourselves. This is because our nose becomes accustomed to our own odour very easily. Maintaining good hygiene habits is obviously vital to prevent body odour but there are some smells which are very difficult to detect independently, such as bad breath or halitosis. 

All body odour is produced by microbes living in the body and giving off by-products; in the mouth bacteria interacts with food particles, blood and tissue to create foul smelling volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). Eating strong smelling foods such as garlic or onions or smoking tobacco causes bad breath but also plant oils are absorbed into our bloodstream and into our lungs, which means that we can breathe out odours for hours later. Similarly, high protein, low carbohydrate diets can cause the bodies to burn stored fats for fuel and lead to a condition called ketosis. As fat burns, ketones build up in the body and some are released in our breath, which do not smell pleasant.

Health problems can also cause our breath to smell. The most common causes are diabetes and chronic acid reflux, respiratory tract infections and sinus infections. Diabetes can also cause ketosis and bad breath can be one of the first symptoms that lead to diagnosis. Dry mouth or xerostomia, caused by lack of saliva can be side effects of medication or problems with the salivary gland. Saliva is vital for moistening and cleaning the mouth; neutralising acids and washing away dead cells. When this is ineffective, cells decompose and can cause our breath to smell. 

"Ninety percent of mouth odours come from mouth itself, either from the food you eat or bacteria that's already there," says Dr. Richard H. Pricespokesman for American Dental Association. Persistent bad breath may be a warning sign of periodontal disease caused by the build up of plaque on teeth. These bacteria cause toxins to form in the mouth, which irritate the gingiva. When left untreated, it can damage both the gums and jawbone. Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances and dental caries.

As well as brushing and flossing our teeth a mouth rinse such as CB12, which was developed by dentists, is effective in preventing bad breath. It has a unique formula that binds chemically to tissues in the oral cavity, neutralising the mal-odour of VSCs. It is easy to use, begins working instantly and its effects last for 12 hours. While CB12 does not cure halitosis, used regularly it can help to maintain fresh breath.

We have established that smells are very important and powerful. No one wants to be remembered for bad breath, or to evoke negative emotions in others. By including an effective mouth rinse into our daily oral routine we can be remembered for our personality and pleasant fragrance. 

 

1. Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. December 2013.

2. Yeshurun Y, Lapid H, Dudai Y, Sobel N (2009). The Privileged Brain Representation of First Olfactory Associations. Current Biology 2009 Nov 4. 19(21):1869-74.

3. Richard H. Price DMD national spokesperson and consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. 


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