Halitosis: Types / Classifications

- The type of breath problem a person has must first be identified before it can be successfully treated.

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Link to tongue debris graphic.
Link to postnasal drip graphic.

When a dental professional initiates a patient's treatment, they must first make an assessment of the type of breath condition from which they are suffering. This is important because the needed solution for different types of conditions varies significantly.

The three major classifications of breath problems are:

  • Genuine halitosis
  • Pseudo-halitosis
  • Halitophobia

A) Genuine Halitosis

This category refers to bad breath that can be readily detected by organoleptic testing (smelling the person's breath) or by the use of some type of testing apparatus that can detect the compounds typically associated with bad breath (volatile sulfur compounds).

B) Pseudo-halitosis

This classification refers to a situation where an odor problem does not exist (cannot be detected by smell or scientific testing) but the patient still feels that they have bad breath. Since no real breath problem exists, treatment consists of counseling the patient about their misconception.

C) Halitophobia

A situation where a patient's perception of a breath problem continues to exist despite the successful treatment of their genuine halitosis condition or, in the case of pseudo-halitosis, after receiving counseling. At this point, treatment for the patient's condition needs to be referred to a medical professional who can provide appropriate psychological counseling.

Bacterial accumulation on the back part of the tongue.

The most common cause of genuine halitosis.

The subcategories of Genuine Halitosis.

Medical professionals subdivide the genuine halitosis category (see above) into two further classifications, "physiologic" and "pathologic" halitosis.

1) Pathologic Halitosis

The person's breath odor is a symptom of a disease, or other pathologic condition, or aggravated by it.

2) Physiologic Halitosis

This category refers to those situations where the person's malodor is attributable to putrefaction processes taking place in their oral cavity, frequently within the white-colored coating found on the posterior portion of their tongue (see illustration).

In most cases, this condition can be resolved with improved oral home care, especially their tongue cleaning.

This classification of bad breath is considered to be transient, in the sense that its presence comes and goes (as determined by temporary localized conditions in the mouth) and that it can be relatively easily resolved.

The subcategories of Pathologic Halitosis.

The "pathologic" halitosis category is further divided into subcategories, based on the location of the disease process that is associated with the patient's breath problem.

1) Oral Pathologic Halitosis

This category includes odor problems that are caused or aggravated by disease or other pathologic condition associated with the tissues of the mouth. As an example, problems with bad breath are often caused by the presence of periodontal disease (gum disease).

2) Extraoral Pathologic Halitosis

Source of postnasal drip.

Sinus issues can be the cause of breath odors.

With this classification, the person's breath malodor originates from a disease or a pathologic condition involving body tissues other than in the mouth. The odor may originate from:

  • The nasal or laryngeal areas (upper respiratory tract).
  • The lower respiratory tract (lungs) or upper digestive tract.
  • Disorders anywhere else in the body. In these cases, compounds produced by the disease process are blood borne and a state of breath malodor is created when they are exhaled from the lungs. These disorders can include diabetes, liver cirrhosis, uremia and internal bleeding.

The patient will need to be referred to a physician or medical specialist for treatment before their breath problem can be fully resolved.

Our next page explains what the odors you smell are and where they come from. Once you know that, you'll know how to cure your problems.



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