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Can Kim Kardashian Really Smell a Cavity?

An investigation

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Sometimes, someone will tell me something I know isn’t true, but I can’t correct them without coming off as a real know-it-all. Tobey Maguire was in that movie, they will say. It was Topher Grace, you fool! I will think, and bite my tongue.

This phenomenon happened to me this morning. “I can smell when someone has a cavity. It’s a very specific smell — not a bad-breath smell — but something that is really strong,” Kim Kardashian West told Harper’s Bazaar. I wanted to scream.

Then I started thinking about those dogs that can smell cancer, and how incredulous I was the first time I heard that some dogs can smell cancer. I thought it sounded extremely fake. Air Bud fake. But it’s real! Dogs possess a powerful secondary smelling center known as Jacobson’s organ, and it enables them to detect the scents of volatile organic compounds present within cancerous cells, just by sniffing the urine or breath of someone with cancer.

I don’t know if Kim is aware of the cancer dogs, but she is confident in her own special sniffing abilities. As it turns out, this is not the first time Kim claimed her olfactory superpower. In a 2012 Keeping Up With the Kardashians episode, she said she could smell that Lamar Odom needed to go to the dentist because he had a cavity. She’s really doubling down here, so I felt it necessary to conduct an investigation and go straight to an expert with my query: Can a human being pinpoint the smell of a cavity?

First, I called the American Dental Association, where a very nice media relations employee wrote down my question and tried not to laugh too much. “While cavities do sometimes cause an odor, that doesn’t mean that behind every odor in the mouth there is a cavity,” an American Dental Association spokesperson told me via email. This didn’t really answer my question, so I called Kim Kardashian West’s dentist, Dr. Kevin B. Sands, but he was performing an oral surgery.

I had to have more detail. So I called my local dentist. “If people have decay in their teeth, there could be an odor,” Brooklyn Family Dental dentist Dr. Terry Unchali told me, confirming again that Kim is telling the truth about cavities giving off a funk.

However, Unchali quickly dismissed the rest of the claim. “Or it could be from not having had cleanings. It could be a cavity or an infectious process going on under the gums. It’s not a specific smell,” he continued.

To make sure there was no ambiguity, I asked again: Is there any specific smell a cavity emits?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s not one particular smell for a cavity, it could be food collecting. They might have gum disease.”

I went for a second opinion. I posed the same question to another dentist, Dr. Michelle Mirsky: Can a human being pinpoint the smell of a cavity?

“No,” she said.

Uh-oh.

Does this mean Kim Kardashian West — Our Lady of Exposing Liars, Patron Saint of Receipts — is, herself, lying about this skill? Perhaps. I would like to offer some counter-theories:

  1. This is a long-con prank on the media.
  2. Remember that episode of The X-Files when the monster-of-the-week was a man who could tell when people had cancer? And then it turned out that … he WAS cancer? (I find it impossible to do plot synopses of The X-Files without sounding like I’m extremely high, my apologies, but that was the plot.) Perhaps the horrifying truth is that Kim is a tooth.
  3. OR, Kim represents a leap forward in human evolution, and she has developed some sort of Jacobson’s organ for humans, except instead of cancer, her ability is limited to cavities, making her a very lame addition to the X-Men squad.
  4. Kim is aware of how insane this claim sounds but is hell-bent on repeatedly making it in order to raise awareness for going to the damn dentist; Kim is not satisfied with her position as Chairwoman of the TSFC (Taylor Swift Fraud Committee) and is moving in on the title of Champion of Oral Hygiene; Kim is about to launch some sort of diabolically expensive smart toothbrush and sees this as a prime guerilla PR opportunity. Kylie Jenner capitalized on lips before Kim could, after all, so now she’s going after the remaining mouth parts. Brace your teeth for the upcoming Kardashian Konsumerism oral care blitz.