For centuries, dental science has been telling us that halitosis is a common problem, one that is easily treated with specialty breath freshening products. However, with the recent advent of some pretty abstruse social and philosophical frameworks, it is occasionally tempting to question the very existence of bad breath.
Well, before we go on, we might as well be clear: While "halitosis" may mean different things to different people, it is most certainly real. Your nose, brain and society are not playing tricks on you.
So how can people talk themselves into an ontological corner about bad breath? It's really not that hard. Theorists do it all the time. Consider an article published in the Brazilian journal Ciencia e Saude Coletiva ("Science and Health") by a pair of social scientists.
The paper argues that halitosis is just an idea constructed by societies, rather than an actual thing. Or, well...that's what we think they're saying. Have a look yourself:
"The veracity of dental awareness, among the main actors, its discourses and its social practices, is never neutral, but always articulated to the interests with which it is permanently involved," the authors write, apparently trying to be as clear as possible.
"The sense of smell moves from knowledge memory and from space to time and certainly from things to beings. Halitosis is, most of the time, unlikely, mixed, singular and uncertain in time and place."
Look, arguments like this are nothing new. We've heard for years that halitosis isn't a real problem so much as it is a constructed issue, one we're told to care about. However, if that were true, people wouldn't be buying specialty breath freshening products by the ton.
The authors of this study seem to be reasoning themselves into abstraction. They're essentially asking What is bad breath? What is breathing? Who is doing the breathing? Are they real? Is anything real? It's the psychological equivalent of saying the word "halitosis" so many times that it ceases to mean anything to your brain.
The questions above are an example of a kind of reasoning called ontology (the study of why things exist and how we know they do). While it works great in philosophy class, it's not very helpful when your breath simply smells funky.
So skip the theory and stick to the time-honored practice of using specialty breath fresheners!