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Bad Breath!
Understanding mood swings
The silent phase of EAL
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Food poverty/language poverty
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Every breath you take: or the origins of, and remedies for, bad breath. With help from Michael McIntyre, The Police and The Corrs!

Date posted: Monday 15th September 2014

Berlin: breathtaking?
The Corrs: leaving you breathless?

Before you read any further, please join me in an experiment. I’d like you to lick the inside of your wrist (left or right, it doesn’t matter). Now wait for five seconds and smell it. Apparently, that’s what your breath smells like at this very moment. (I forgot to mention that you should check whether anyone is watching first.) Now let’s move on.

I often think that car mechanics and doctors have a lot in common. They all try to find out as much as possible about the problem by listening to how you describe it. So by the time they come to open the bonnet, or don the rubber gloves to examine you, they have already formulated an idea of where the problem might lie. Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, for example, are very interested in smelly breath… and colourful mucous, and many other problems that we don’t like to talk about while we are eating. For them, bad breath can be a sign of all sorts of things. My mum used to say to me, “Michael. Your breath stinks. Do you need to do a poo?” To this day, I don’t understand the link between constipation and halitosis. I just know that this was the question mummy would invariably ask whenever I brought a girlfriend home to meet her for the first time when I was a teenager.

(BTW, does your wrist still smell?)

There are two types of person in the world: those who are aware that their breath might smell foul, and those who need to be told about it. So how do you let a colleague know that her breath is so rank that her pupils refer to her as ‘JB’ (‘Jobby Breath’), and are refusing to have one-to-one tuition with her? That was the position I was in when I took over the leadership of a support team. If you don’t mind a bit of ‘mild language and mild sex references’ then watch this clip of Michael McIntyre, to get an idea of the strength of the problem.

What have you been eating in the night? Michael McIntyre on ‘Morning Breath’

I wake up every morning and remind myself of the adage ‘Do as you would be done by’; i.e. ‘treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.’ However, five minutes into my day I have already upset someone, either by being insensitive to their feelings or trying to be funny. So every day as a team leader I thought of different ways to address the breath problem with my colleague, without being insensitive or upsetting her, or triggering a harassment claim. I thought about how I would like to be treated (with gentleness and tact). So here are my first sorties into the world of telling a colleague something embarrassing about her bodily functions:

Day 1.

Me: Would you like a mint?

Colleague: No thanks.

Day 2.

Me (Breathing into my hand): I think I might have eaten a lot of garlic last night. I’m very conscious of my breath. I think I’ll eat a mint. Would you like one?

Colleague: No thanks.

Day 3.

Me: I seem to be having a few problems with my gums. I think I’ll have a mint, in case my breath smells strongly. Would you like one?

Colleague: No thanks.

Day 4.

Me: I’ve read that if you lick the inside of your wrist, then that is what your breath smells like (I lick my wrist). Jeez! My breath must smell awful. I think I’ll have a mint. Would you like one?

Colleague: No thanks.

Day 5.

Me: Oh my goodness! I keep forgetting to floss my teeth, which can lead to a build-up of bacterial activity working on the pieces of food debris between my teeth, causing the release of badly-smelling gas. I wonder if my breath smells badly. Would you do me a favour and smell it for me? I tell you what; I’ll have a mint first. Would you like one?

Colleague: No thanks to both questions.

Day 6.

Me: I have been on a crash diet and this may have led to my saliva drying up and causing extra bacterial activity in my mouth, leading to bad breath. Has that ever happened to you? Would you like a mint?

Colleague: No. And no thanks.

Day 7.

Me: I have terrible constipation. I think it’s making my breath smell. I think I’ll try and do a poo and then have a mint. Would you like one?

Colleague: A poo or a mint? The answer is ‘no’ to both questions.

Day 8. Colleague: Michael, you have been talking a lot about breath recently. Are you suggesting that my breath smells?

Me: No. Not at all! Heaven forbid! Whatever gave you that idea?

(Smell your wrist again. Has the smell gone? Maybe you should give it another lick.)

As parents and practitioners and teachers, we are frequently getting very close to little children, and often get a faceful of bad breath as a present. This is an important sign, and though we would like to ignore it, we shouldn’t. Strong breath in children can mean ‘tonsillitis’, which is a catch-all phrase to describe swollen tonsils. This may be an indication of infection in other areas, and especially if associated with

Add all these things up and the child may be experiencing otitis media or ‘glue ear’.

Luckily, it’s much easier to talk to parents about their young children’s bodily functions than to bring these subjects up with colleagues. If you are sitting there in judgement of me and my inability to cut to the chase with my poor, unfortunate colleague, then please let me know what you would have done. For example, would you have hummed a popular song by The Police (‘Don’t Stand so Close to Me’), Pink Floyd or the Corrs every time she came near?

Every Breath you Take: Was this song influenced by Sting’s experience as a teacher with a colleague with halitosis?

For more information about the causes of bad breath and what to do about it click here, here or here.

Take care out there.


PS Please stop smelling your wrist. People are getting worried.

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5 responses to “Every breath you take: or the origins of, and remedies for, bad breath. With help from Michael McIntyre, The Police and The Corrs!”

  1. Recently attended some INSET delivered by one of our midday meals supervisors who has autism and can describe to us what his autism is like first hand. More importantly all the sensory issues his autism gave him to deal with through his often difficult school career. IE what HIS autism felt smelt sounded and looked like.
    One of his teacher’s breath smelt so bad to him that he would get up and run away. Point being working with people with potentially hypersensitive sensory input issues,get the basics right. Make sure your very physical presence isn’t an affront.
    Pip Pip

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Tim
      As usual, you have hit the nail square on the head!
      Teens often complain of their teachers’ ‘coffee and cigarette breath’. We can’t avoid eating and drinking, but good oral hygiene is a must for anyone getting up close and personal to children. Maybe this issue could be dealt with in the same way that we deal with the staff ‘dress code’, being punctual for the lessons you are teaching, and how we talk to pupils? (Actually these are often NOT addressed explicitly in any school policy document, and can lead to significant aggravation- among staff and pupils.)
      Great to hear from you.
      My next post is about T Rex, George Harrison and led Zep. Can you see a link? (Clue: ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘We love to boogie’

  2. Plagiarism? Not you. Them Marc, George, Robert and Jimmy)

  3. PS For fun, search Jimoin (Irish stand up comic) on his material about the difference between smelling something someone offers you on the inside of their wrist compared to on the end of their fingers. You’ll like it

    • Michael Jones says:

      Will do!!
      Also there is a reference to the smell of nail varnish in ‘American Hustle’. I had no idea what that film was about but couldn’t take my eyes off the brilliant actors!

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