Most people have a healthy, instinctive aversion to bad breath. It smells terrible. It makes your nose crinkle, your head turn away and (if it's the worst of the worst) your eyes water. These are natural responses to volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), the molecules in halitosis that smell like decay. However, for a small group of people, the fear of having oral odor is extreme, becoming an outright phobia.
It's called halitophobia, and, according to the Deccan Herald, this problem is becoming more widespread than ever - especially among women.
Fear of funk
The newspaper related the case of Mrinal Ghosh, an office worker in India who developed halitosis during the nine months she was away from work with jaundice. However, even though the oral odor (and the liver dysfunction) eventually faded, Ghosh is still living in fear that she has constant and extreme bad breath.
According to Sunita Gupta, the head of oral medicine at the Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences, such obsessions are on the rise.
"Among the patients I see, two out of 10 suffer from halitophobia. Women and children are more prone to this disorder," she told the news source, which estimated that 50 million Indians have this phobia, 30 million of them women. This accounts for 5 percent of all adults.
If this figure is applied to the U.S., it reveals that we can expect nearly 16 million adults to have this fear, including 9 million women.
What's going on?
Many psychologists believe that this disorder stems from odor-related traumas. And why women? The disparity may come from differing societal expectations of the ways men and women present themselves.
One way to prove to a patient that they do not have halitosis is to invite them to use specialty breath fresheners, and then to have both them and a family member breathe into resealable plastic bags. A quick sniff test of both bags can prove to a halitophobic person that their breath smells sweeter than they realize.