The world is full of of embarrassing conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Every week, Carian discusses one. This week: halitophobia.
Having a bad breath is really embarrassing. However, it’s not easy to tell whether you have it or not. In addition, it is still one of those subjects that people just don’t want to mention – not even to close friends and family.
Apparently this freaks people out, as a considerable amount of those who seek treatment for their ‘bad breath’ (halitosis) are actually suffering from an irrational fear of having a breath problem. It is thought that this anxiety, also known as halitophobia, severely affects the lives of about 1% of the adult population.
Alix was used to brush her teeth about 10 times a day. “I also chewed gum the whole time because I was sure I had bad breath. I hated being in lifts with people and worried about traveling on the tube. I just didn’t want to be in close proximity to anyone.”
Giles developed a habit to constantly lick his hand and smell it. “I became so obsessive that I would repeat the routine dozens of times a day and wouldn’t realize I was doing it.”
“I am a recruitment consultant, which means I conduct one-to-one interviews. I would sit as far away from my client as possible, turn my face from him and hold my hand in front of my mouth.”
The fear of having a bad breath is – like many other phobias – a consequence of society’s emphasis and preoccupation with looking ánd smelling good. The phobia is mostly minor but can get out of control.
“Halitophobia could develop quite innocently, through a minor breath problem,” says psychiatrist Cosmo Hallstrom. “They try to avoid it and take a mint. Then they want something stronger and start brushing their teeth a lot, but it is never quite enough. The phobia builds up and takes over. For example, they may be rejected by a partner and blame that on the bad breath they think they have. Life gets miserable and they blame their breath.”
If you feel insecure about your breath, don’t just mask it by brushing your teeth and chewing gum, but visit a doctor or dentist to find out if there’s really something wrong or that you feel less confident for no reason.