Bad Breath, more formally known as halitosis, is a condition that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. It is defined as a persistent malodor coming from the mouth. Bad breath is primarily caused by conditions affecting the teeth or gums but other anatomical areas such as the nose, throat, and GI system can also be causes.
The annoyance of bad breath has been noticed for centuries – it is not just a recent development. But did you know that in some cultures, you could divorce your partner over it?
Bad Breath in the Talmud
The Talmud is an important text in Judaism and dates back to more than two thousand years. This text serves as the basis for Jewish law and customs. Surprisingly, halitosis is discussed in great detail in more than one part of the Talmud.
In this great summary by Shira Goldstein, she outlines the details of halitosis and how it was addressed in the Talmud:
- According to the Talmud, halitosis is considered a “serious disability.”
- In Jewish marriage, the ketuba is the marriage contract between the husband and wife. If a husband discovers his wife has bad breath, he has the ability to cancel the ketuba over it.
- Women were able to divorce their husbands over halitosis too. The smell from bad breath was even comparable to the smell from collecting dog dung!
- There was significant discussion in the Talmud over whether nasal odor and oral odor were equivalent. They were later deemed to be comparable.
So this means that over 2000 years ago, people were gravely concerned about bad breath!
Bad Breath and the Dentist
As a dentist in Orange, CT, patients typically look to me to help them with their real or perceived halitosis. Many people actually suffer from a perception and/or fear that they have bad breath. This is referred to as halitophobia.
But most cases of perceived halitosis are legitimate. Research shows that 85 to 90% of cases of bad breath are oral in origin with the remaining 10 to 15% originating elsewhere. So that means I can help the vast majority of patients with real (or perceived) cases of halitosis. The techniques for treating bad breath are beyond the scope of this post but in general we focus on improving oral hygiene. For the other 10 to 15%, I typically refer to the correct physician specialist for evaluation and diagnosis.
What NOT to do if you have halitosis
I’ve had a great number of patients come to me for assistance and advice on many dental and non-dental issues. These have ranged from whether the Tooth Fairy should come for Wisdom Teeth (no!) to whether used dental floss can be flushed down the toilet (no!) to how do I tell my significant other they should see the dentist (firmly but delicately).
I have yet to field a question regarding bad breath and the status of a patient’s marriage. But I can confidently say:
Do not divorce you partner if he/she has bad breath!
Your dentist and hygienist can help. Just call them.