July 02, 2012

As some of you know, I work in a dialysis clinic and the smells are unpleasant at best. The aroma is a concoction of blood, liquid medications, bleach, body odor and bad breath, a.k.a. Halitosis. The last two scents are the focus of today’s column. Lord knows I don’t smell like Plumeria blossoms after running thirteen miles in the West Maui sun, but I do know the health and social benefits of bathing and brushing.

Halitosis can result from poor oral hygiene, which leads to a buildup of bacteria, gum disease, and tooth decay. But Halitosis can also be a symptom of more serious health problems, such as Diabetes, kidney or liver disease, acid reflux, and respiratory infections to name a few. Ill-fitting dentures can trigger bad breath as well.

Similarly, body odor can be related to medical issues. For example, Trimethylaminuria, also known as “Fish Odor Syndrome,” has a genetic link where the body has difficulty breaking down choline concentrated foods, such as eggs and organ meats. The odor dissipates once these foods are digested. The condition can be rectified with a change in diet. I must confess that after a night of garlic overload at the Stinking Rose in San Francisco, I too was oozing stench from my pores. I could barely stand myself.

The lack of adequate teeth brushing and bathing is often times a problem for the elderly due to social isolation, depression, or dementia. Without fail some little kid during a visit with Grandma and Grandpa will ask their parents why these old folks smell like mothballs. Please explain to the little darlings that if they’re lucky enough to live as long, they too may stink. All kidding aside, these smells should be a red flag for caregivers. If you’re not elderly, infirmed, demented, depressed, or socially isolated and just suffer from Lazy-itis, please consider your friends and loved ones, who would like to remain your friends and loved ones, Brush & Bathe!

Linda Sussman-Swiller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her at her website: www.therapyandlifecoach.com.

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