It is unfortunate that when someone has bad breath, we often leap to conclusions about them. You might think that a person with halitosis has poor oral hygiene skills or terribly advanced tooth decay, not realizing that he or she might have a problem with tonsil stones or postnasal drip, something that they cannot fix very easily.
In fact, one of the few ways to reduce oral odor caused by the latter conditions is to gargle frequently with a specialty breath freshening rinse. Done repeatedly, this can neutralize odors and loosen the mucus and tonsilloliths at the back of the throat, where a toothbrush cannot or should not go.
Just because someone suffers from bad breath does not mean we should make assumptions about them, their habits or their heritage. So says Bob Rehder, anyway, in an essay published in the book Inductive Reasoning: Experimental, Developmental and Computational Approaches.
Rehder, who hails from New York University, uses awareness of someone's halitosis as an example of a time when you might be likely to use fallacious induction - to jump to conclusions, in other words.
He begins with a hypothetical situation. If the first person you met from Uzbekistan - he chose the country at random - had bad breath, what would you think about Uzbekistan? It might be tempting to induce from this one example that all people from that nation have halitosis, but Rehder said this is falling into the trap of categorical induction.
He added that basing such reasoning on traits - on what they eat in Uzbekistan, for example - is better, but not by much.
Rehder may be correct about induction but what about Uzbekistan? What do they eat there, and could it cause bad breath the way American food does?
According to the website Oriental Express Central Asia, Uzbekistanis tend to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, which grow well in their country. Their foods are not especially spicy, their bread is often "flat" or yeastless and the Uzbeks even eat katyk, a sour yogurt that could have probiotic effects, the source notes.
All evidence appears to indicate that people in Uzbekistan rarely have to deal with halitosis, right? Well, even based on such evidence, this generalization is likely wrong.
For one thing, oral odor is almost universal. Beyond diet, halitosis can be cause by tooth decay, illness, coated tongue and any number of other factors. For another, it is unclear what kind of access Central Asian countries have to specialty breath fresheners and oral care probiotics.