Dental Care

Phantom Halitosis and Reality

What is phantom halitosis? Do you think you have bad breath ... but you don't? 

Are you worried your breath is offensive and causes other people to dislike being around you, but your breath is actually no more malodorous than theirs?  If so, you might have a case of halitophobia, not halitosis.

Halitosis is the medical term for noticeably bad breath.  We've all probably had it at some time or another, but some people are worried they have halitosis even though, objectively speaking, their breath has no perceptible odor. 

Those people might have halitophobia instead - an irrational fear of having unpleasant, offensive breath.  Phantom halitosis and delusional halitosis are two other names that are used to refer to this irrational but very real fear.

Many people who seek dental treatment visit their dentists to find a cure for their bad breath and not for routine care or restorative treatment. 

But dentists report that the concerns of one fourth of those people are highly exaggerated and they are actually suffering from phantom halitosis.  The condition is thought to adversely affect the lives of up to one percent of the adult population.

How Can This Affect Your Life?

People with phantom halitosis are reluctant to go out into public and interact with people. 

Those with severe cases have been known to quit their jobs and become recluses because they are simply unable to deal with the embarrassment they feel because of their (imaginary) bad breath. 

They may also be afraid of physically intimate relationships. 

In short, people with delusional halitosis can feel isolated socially and often are obsessed with the behavior of the people around them.  When they're talking with people they constantly watch for whether those people are covering their noses with their hands, clearing their throats or coughing, averting their eyes, avoiding them and so forth.

Their excessive concern is made worse because evaluating the odor of their own breath is at best a difficult and inaccurate proposition.  They may feel that having a bad taste in their mouth automatically means their breath is bad as well, and this adds to their insecurity about being in close quarters with other people.

Sufferers from phantom halitosis are typically very insecure about having conversations with other people, but at the same time they want to discuss their experiences and feelings with others who are suffering from the same irrational fear. 

They hope to be able to better determine how bad their halitosis actually is (remember, it's imaginary) and learn more about which products might help.

Objective Testing

If you think you have halitosis -or instead phantom halitosis- you can conduct a simple little test to gain at least an indication of whether you actually do have bad breath. 

Simply scrape an inverted teaspoon or a tongue-scraper along your tongue, starting at the back of your mouth and moving it toward your lips. 

The spoon will collect saliva, bacteria and odor from the surface of your tongue.  Smell this material after you give it a minute or two to dry. 

If it smells bad, you have halitosis (and not phantom halitosis).  Armed with that knowledge, you can take steps to eliminate it, including following an effective daily oral hygiene routine.

If you can overcome what can be an understandable, natural reluctance to do so, you can take a different approach to determine whether or not you have halitosis. 

Second Opinion

Ask someone - be it your spouse, a friend or someone you don't even know - if your breath is offensive. 

You might learn some valuable information, but be aware that some people have a more acute sense of smell than others, so the person you ask might have a more or less sensitive nose than normal. 

And, the person you ask might be afraid of offending you and not answer your inquiry truthfully. 

You might actually get a more honest answer by asking a young child, because children are usually less sensitive about the potential for hurting someone's feelings.


People with phantom halitosis are often willing to try almost anything to eliminate the bad breath they imagine they have. 

Oxyfresh and TheraBreath are two commercially available bad breath aids they frequently try, but others try swishing their mouths with a very dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide

Still others try using a neti pot to freshen their nasal passages, throat and breath.


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