Williams column: Ammunition in the war against bad breath

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2012

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Offensive breath (with the emphasis more on released than taken) has given inspiration to many products advertised on television over the years. Science played an early part in this with Listerine, and later on with Clorets. The advertisements for Clorets proudly promote its chlorophyll content in the fight against halitosis (come to think of it, I remember none of the tall oaks in the yard of my childhood home on the Old Concord Road being particularly odiferous).
Certs contains “retsyn,” another chemical, and Dentyne does the job in an old-fashioned manner with spice instead. Italian restaurants do their part “naturally” as well, with the use of peppermint after-dinner mints to mask the particularly spiced breath which comes with their cuisine. There is one Italian restaurant in Danville which has a bowl of wrapped mints next to the cash register. After paying my bill, I always experience a measure of delight in the inspection of the fine print of the mint’s wrapper (everything in life has fine print, even mints), revealing its town of origin as the town in which my college alma mater is located: Boone, N.C.
In addition to mouthwashes, tablets and gum, there are breath strips which dissolve in the mouth instantaneously like my late mother’s nitroglycerin tablets, although the urgency of the cessation of malodorous breath can’t quite match the urgency of the cessation of pains in the chest!
Before going out on a date, in high school or college, I would pop a breath mint or chew some chewing gum. If I didn’t have either of those, just before heading out the door I would sometimes swig a little bit of Lavoris (not a large amount, since ingestion is ill advised) to head off bad breath “at the pass” (or more correctly, “passageways”). A lessening of the use of losenges and “swigging” came with marriage, as I don’t remember there being tins of mints or bottles of mouthwash being placed on the bed table, for either morning or nighttime use.
Mints are marketed also for the covering up of “cigarette breath” and alcohol. At the science museum where I work, we have our annual fundraiser. This affair is often attended by many members of the local, societal “upper crust.” Just as death is no respecter of the upper crust, neither is wine, cheese and heavy hors d’ oeuvres-inspired halitosis.
One night, while conducting an astronomical observing session at the museum, a couple of men showed up, somewhat inebriated, with “whisky breath,” but they seemed more excited about what they were going to view than some of the school children who have attended! Both men told me that it would be their very first time observing through a telescope.
Most people usually have trouble with their very first look through the eyepiece of a telescope, performing the same amount of squinting as that performed by Kommandant Klink in the positioning of his monacle! Unlike some of the other first-time star-gazing members of the public, these intoxicated men took to telescopic observation quite well! When the archaeologist, Howard Carter was asked what he was seeing as he gazed through that small opening, for the first time, into King Tutankhamen’s tomb, he said: “Wonderful things!” That night, those inebriated men also attested to the sight of “wonderful things,” in fact, many more “wonderful things” than seen by all of the other observers combined, including me!
My mother enjoyed Brach’s Mints, not for their breath-enhancing properties, but purely for their taste. Although she wasn’t a drinker, I do remember smelling wine on her breath with predictable regularity! The recurrence of her wine-scented breath exactly matched the recurrence of the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church. The Communion wine was made by a member of Saint Paul’s and especially consecrated for its use.
Choir members use Brach’s Mints, not for the breath’s scent, but for a tickle in the throat (in a Lutheran Church especially, “Brach’s Mints” should always be pronounced minus the “r”). Even when the greatest care in these mints’ unwrapping is taken, it is still not enough! I have attempted the unwrapping of a mint beneath the folds of a choir robe, but that single sound of manipulated cellophane seems to have the same power of resonation throughout the church’s rafters as that of preaching, congregational singing and the pipe organ!
As a child, I smelled the wine on my mother’s breath at Saint Paul’s when she returned to her seat following the receipt of the Sacrament. After Confirmation, I received the Sacrament with her, but that earlier memory of her coming back to the pew with wine-scented breath, when I was a young child, seems particularly memorable! Perhaps it had something to do with her return from a special place in the church which seemed even more sacred than the place where I had remained waiting for her!
I don’t remember hearing any of her Brach’s Mints being unwrapped afterwards, since she didn’t drive, and since the amount of wine consumed at Communion doesn’t really affect the body at all (but does quite a bit for the soul). I think the reason she didn’t go to the trouble of covering up that particular fermented scent was because it was a residue of something sacred, with no cause for shame.