The complex world of halitosis.
Although the expression “bad breath” is the most commonly used, the medical term that defines unpleasant breath odour is “halitosis”. The term appeared for the first time in 1921 in the United States, on the label of a bottle of mouthwash, and is a compound of the Latin form “halitus” (exhaled air) with the Greek ending “osis” (a suffix used to describe a pathological state).
Halitosis can be brought on by over 80 causes. One of the biggest difficulties faced when trying to treat bad breath is precisely due to the multiple possible causes of the condition, and the fact that it falls under a wide range of medical specialisations. It would therefore be more appropriate to speak of the condition in its plural form “halitoses”.
A problem that affects quality of life.
Although the medical term was coined relatively recently, halitosis is a condition with one of the longest histories and worse impact on social relationships.
A person’s awareness of suffering from bad breath has psychological consequences, with visible behavioural manifestations, such as covering the mouth while speaking, keeping greater personal distance than normal or even avoiding social interactions altogether.
This is because the simple action of smelling has been found to be highly significant in relation to the emotions, emotional significance, capable of generating closeness or rejection, or even stimulating memory. The perception of unpleasant-smelling breath generally tends to provoke an increase in negative emotions, such as irritability, unease, nervousness and agitation.
Halitosis as a sign of an underlying disease.
Human breath (even that which is considered normal) is a gas with a complex composition. Scientists have identified multiple unstable compounds, observing that a sample of exhaled air can contain over 200 different compounds. A wide range of factors determine which compounds are found…
…in the human breath, particularly state of health, physical condition, disease, food and medicine intake, environmental factors and lifestyle.
Therefore, bad breath is an indicator of abnormal bacterial activity or a disturbance in a physiological mechanism.
The detection and identification of the cause of bad breath can play an important role in the early diagnosis of certain illnesses. For example, periodontitis (gum disease) can cause premature tooth decay if left untreated. For this reason, it is necessary to raise awareness about the condition so that it may be detected by patients themselves or by a third party, as persistent bad breath is a sign that something is not working properly.
The most common causes of bad breath.
A report published by the Breath Institute in 2010 confirmed that the cause of around 60% of cases of halitosis is found in the mouth.
Extra-oral causes (related to the respiratory system, the digestive tract or of systemic origin) are responsible for approximately 17% of cases. The diagnosis of these extra-oral causes is very rarely straightforward and requires cutting-edge technology, which is why it is always advisable for patients to visit a specialist halitosis centre.
The remaining 23% of cases refer to patients who, despite seeking treatment for halitosis, have not been able to obtain a diagnosis of genuine halitosis. Certain conditions such as reduced salivary secretion, digestive problems, stress and/or anxiety, cause taste sensations to be perceived as smell, leading a person to believe that they suffer from halitosis.
Breaking the taboo.
It is estimated that over 25% of the population regularly suffer from bad breath, regardless of gender, age or social class, and that 50% of individuals have at some point been concerned about their breath. Nevertheless, despite the increased importance placed on the social impact of halitosis, especially in consideration of its serious impact on sufferers’ quality of life, there is still a great deal of misinformation on the topic.
If somebody you know suffers from Halitosis, should you tell them?
Without a doubt, the answer is yes. Surprisingly, it has been found that the colleagues and closest friends of a person suffering from halitosis, prefer not to address the issue and instead remain quiet. When questioned about their stance, they defend their position on the basis that it is a delicate topic and that they do not feel comfortable with openly bringing it up.
When this information is conveyed to a halitosis sufferer with feeling, genuine concern and tact, they really appreciate that somebody told them. Patients who attend breath clinics, when explaining the moment when they first realised that they had halitosis, display huge gratitude towards the person who told them.