Halitophobia: What is it and How to Manage it

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Bad breath, also called halitosis, is a common problem: one-quarter of the population suffers from it. However, not everyone who thinks his or her breath smells actually has bad breath. About five percent of people who think they have chronic bad breath are reported to have pseudohalitosis, also called halitophobia.

What Is Pseudohalitosis?

People with this condition are convinced that they have bad breath, but a foul odor is undetectable to others. A study published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine (BPS Medicine) explains that this condition is psychogenic, meaning that it has a psychological cause rather than being caused by problems inside your mouth.

How Is Halitophobia Identified?

If you think your breath smells, see your dentist. While your friends and family may not want to tell you that your breath smells, you can trust your dentist to tell you the truth. Your dentist will smell the breath from both your nose and your mouth and will rate its odor. He or she may also have access to a special detector – called a Halimeter – that can sense the chemicals that make breath smell bad, explains the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. This detector gives an objective evaluation of your breath and will let your dentist know if an odor is present.

Your dentist may also rule out possible causes of bad breath. This includes factors like poor oral hygiene, cavities, dry mouth or gum disease. If none of these problems are detected during your dental exam, your dentist will be sure that you don't have bad breath.

If you still think your breath smells terrible, even after your dentist has reassured you that your breath smells fine and that you have no oral health problems that could cause bad breath, he or she may diagnose you with halitophobia.

How Is It Managed?

Since this condition is psychogenic, it's treated by mental health professionals like psychiatrists or psychologists. Your dentist can refer you to an appropriate professional and will explain why this treatment is necessary. Mental health professionals use treatments like cognitive therapy or antidepressants to help you manage your condition, explains BPS Medicine.

While halitophobia isn't caused by problems inside your mouth, it's still important for people with this condition to look after their oral health. When you think your breath smells, you may be tempted to clean your mouth vigorously, but aggressive brushing and flossing can damage your tooth enamel or irritate your gums. Gently brush your teeth twice per day with a toothbrush and once per day, carefully floss your teeth.

Halitophobia is a distressing condition, but with the help of your dentist and mental health professionals, it can be managed.

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