Why Can’t I Smell My Own Bad Breath?

January 16, 2008

Most people who have chronic bad breath are very much aware that they have severe halitosis. A friend will usually tell them they have a problem, or they’ll draw their own conclusions when coworkers begin avoiding one-on-one conversations or when a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend pulls away from a kiss.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s almost impossible to smell your own bad breath. You’ve probably tried cupping your hand in front of your face, exhaling through your mouth and then sniffing for the odor that others find so offensive.

The reason this doesn’t work is a phenomenon called acclimation. Basically, our body acclimates, or gets used to, its own odors and smells and then learns to ignore them.

If you stop and think about it, acclimation makes a lot of sense. If we were able to smell our own breath, we wouldn’t be able to smell our food, or a bouquet of flowers, or any of the other smells we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

There is a simple way to experience the smell of your own breath. Wash your hands and then lick the back of one hand with your tongue. Wait about 10 or 15 seconds so your saliva can dry. Then smell the area of the hand that you licked. If it smells bad, it’s because the bacteria that cause bad breath have left a smelly layer of sulfur compounds on your hand. It will probably smell like a rotten egg or musty old socks.

If this simple test reveals that you have bad breath, you may want to try an oral rinse that oxygenates your mouth and inhibits the anaerobic bacteria that cause bad breath.

You can also learn all about bad breath causes and cures from The Bad Breath Bible, a free ebook written by Dr. Harold Katz, founder of the California Breath Clinics.


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