Mostly whimsical reflections on life
As problems go, bad breath ranks right up there.
I see my wife contort her face every morning when I give her a smooch before clamoring out of bed. The baristas at my favorite Starbucks keep their distance when I show up to place my order in a crackly voice carried on a zephyr of morning breath. Even the dog flinches when I get too chummy.
This, I realize, isn’t a personal shortcoming, but rather the byproduct of a good night’s sleep when mouth germs serenade to the sound of snoring.
So it was joyful news to learn the magnates of mouthwash are planning global expansion. Foul odors shroud the earth and yawning mouths yearn to be cleansed and refreshed for profit.
The news of liberation from bad breath was proclaimed in the New York Times by Rachel Abrams, who prepped for her reportage by touring the Listerine “stink lab.” This is where people in lab coats experiment with various mixtures of mouthwash to kill germs with good smelling panache. There is a lot of testing, which requires saliva samples spit into jugs every few days by stink lab employees, who get extra pay for their spit.
Counterintuitively, mouthwash is not considered a necessity, especially following the Great Recession that left many to soul-searching about life’s priorities. What’s more important, food with garlic or breath that smells like lilac?
Fresh breath is no longer reason enough to gargle mouthwash. Liquid for the mouth also must whiten your teeth and fight tooth decay. This is akin to deodorant that must go beyond hiding natural body odor to create a more image-shaping body odor to project to workmates, people in an elevator or prospective dates.
Listerine has a legacy of making your mouth smell more like a hospital room than a rose garden, which can be as much of a turn-off as bad breath itself. So the emphasis in the stink lab is on how to mask old-school germ-fighting ingredients with more contemporary and appetizing flavors. This quest risks alienating old-guard garglers like me, who equate bad taste with a clean mouth.
Developing flavors for overseas tastebuds requires a whole new sensibility. Swishing something with notes of green tea may not hold much appeal for the typical American, but it might for someone in Asia. For people starving in Africa, they may want mouthwash that tastes like dinner.
The push to go global doesn’t divert the main attention of stink lab scientists from finding new ways to kill more germs. This is easier said than done apparently.
First off, it requires letting mouth germs from the saliva of stink lab workers germinate so they really stink. (This is where imagie-shaping deodorant comes in handy). Then, lab technicians need to clock the kill time required to eliminate “99 percent” of the germs. More people may be working on liquid death rays for mouth germs than on a cure for Ebola.
Much of this done to please the merchants of mouthwash who must market their product in competition with other body improvement offerings, such as painless hair removal, anti-aging cream and acne prevention, which also can offend and lead to lonely nights.
Marketers might wish for the good old days when Listerine was branded as an multi-purpose antiseptic mouthwash. In addition to killing mouth germs, Listerine was touted to remove dandruff and salve flesh wounds. Outside the glance of the Federal Trade Commission, mouthwash pitches like that could give some reason for someone in Bangladesh to buy a bottle.