The sense of smell is very important because it acts as a form of protection, as well as allowing us to enjoy the sensory experience brought about by different smells and scents.
How does the sense of smell work?
The sense of smell is the most direct sense. The nose is the most important organ in the smelling process. Smells from the environment come into the nose in the form of molecules, which float through the air; when the molecules reach the nose, they travel to an area at the back of the nasal passage, where there is a patch of neurons. The neurons open when they come into contact with molecules and the molecules attach to the cilia (the tiny hairs in the nose). This triggers the action of the neuron and enables us to decipher the different smells. Different smells are decoded by specific genes in the DNA; if there is a missing or damaged gene, an individual may not be able to smell a certain odour.
Stimulating and developing the sense of smell
We come into contact with a range of different smells every day and experts estimate that humans can detect around 10,000 different smells. Some odours are much stronger than others and it may be difficult to detect subtle scents.
Babies learn to recognise different smells from a young age but it may take a while to recognise a large range of smells and odours. You can introduce children and babies to smells by buying sensory toys, which involve different smells and giving them a sensory experience by soothing them with scented oils (which are sensitive enough for baby’s skin), using aromatherapy oils, encouraging them to smell different things, like flowers and foods.