In recent times, there has been an increase in awareness of how your body and your mouth should smell. Multiple television adverts showcase how a fresh mouth is something to be desired as they tell us about their mouth freshening products.
With this increase in awareness comes an overtly increased concern about how our mouth smells, and this may result in a condition called Halitophobia.
Halitophobia is simply the fear of bad breath.
It is a fear arising from the excessive fascination with having fresh breath and an extreme anxiety of having bad breath.
People suffering from this condition think they have bad breath and may go to the extreme to get rid of a bad breath that was never there in the first place. Another category may have mild bad breath, but they think its so serious. In essence, the bad breath occurs in their mind and not in their mouths.
There have been reported cases of excessive obsession with breath, with sufferers moving around with toothbrushes and a repertoire of mouthwashes and mouth sprays. They may brush at any given opportunity, often taking multiple bathroom breaks to do so. One reported case of suicide has been linked to Halitophobia.
Sufferers of this condition usually have a hard time communicating with people. They feel their breath really stinks and this may be compounded if people around them rub their noses, maybe as a habit or to relieve an itch. In extreme cases, they may prefer to stay indoors and avoid any form of physical contact, preferring to talk only on the telephone.
Basic facts about Halitophobia
- It is also called Psychogenic Halitosis or Delusional halitosis.
- It is an assumption of having bad breath.
- Dentists suggest that it affects 25% of patients seeking treatment for Halitosis. That is for every four patients who complain of bad breath and wants treatment, one of them do not really have bad breath.
- It affects about 1% of the adult population.
Causes of Halitophobia
- Emotional trauma.
This may happen early during development. For example, if a child is constantly told their mouth stinks, be it jokingly or seriously, they may grow up to believe it, even when it doesn’t. For others, an unkind word said in the heat of a quarrel or just in passing may stick and make them obsessed with how their mouth smells. For example *Jack is having an argument with his wife and she says ‘for goodness sake your mouth stinks’. this could have been a statement of anger or an expensive joke, but Jack believes it especially when his daughter reminds him he has not brushed his teeth the next day. He begins chewing mouth freshning gums all the time and people start looking at him in a weird way probably because of his constant chewing, but then he believes the weird looks are because his mouth stinks, so in addition to the gums, he now carries a mouth spray around.
- Culture and Society
An increasing awareness of how a fresh breath is desirable has led to a lot of persons becoming obsessed with their breath and developing Halitophobia.
- Difficulty in detecting one’s own breath
Of course, you cannot really be sure how exactly your mouth smells, even with the advent of specific tools to detect it. This uncertainty can lead to a fear of bad breath and obsessive tendencies.
- Halitophobia may stem from other conditions like delusion, hypochondria, obsessive-compulsive disorders or olfactory reference syndrome.
Effects of Halitophobia
This may range from turning one’s face away while speaking to complete social withdrawal in severe cases.
- Social anxiety. There is fear of being close to others and even in engaging in physical relationships.
- Lack of vocal projection while speaking or no speaking at all
- Social withdrawal, social phobia, social isolation and withdrawal
- Constant gum chewing and use of mouth fresheners
- Excessive tooth brushing, which may lead to tooth wear and its attending effects.
Diagnosis of halitophobia
You can be said to have halitophobia when you display all or some of the features above. Also, you may have visited a dentist or several Dentists and have been told you do not have bad breath, but still you think you have bad breath.
What can be done for those with Halitophobia?
Firstly you need to know that you are not alone, this condition is more common than you think.
Get help. First, see a Dentist for proper assessment and make sure there are no causes of bad breath in your mouth for the avoidance of doubt. If there are any bad breath causing conditions, take care of them. Counselling by the Dentist is usually sufficient in mild cases. However, where necessary your Dentist may request you see a psychotherapist in severe cases. Group support has been shown to help a great deal. Support groups for people with halitophobia are springing up, an example is Halitophobics Anonymous, which is run by a Dentist in the United Kingdom. Speak up and get the help you need.
If still in doubt, ask a very close friend about your breath, when you are told, you do not have bad breath, take their word for it!
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