What you need to know:
Halitosis commonly happens when certain types of bacteria have colonised the back of the tongue
Winnie and Fred were on the verge of separating after seven years of marriage. Winnie had actually made up her mind to leave but on second thought came to the Sexology Clinic to seek advice.
“You know how hard it is to arrive at these decisions,” she explained looking distant and staring at the horizon, “I’m not sure what will happen to my children, I wonder how my parents will react, it is difficult.”
Winnie has three children, with the youngest being two. She is a high school teacher. Fred is a businessman running a fleet of lorries that transports agricultural goods from rural areas to the city. Their marriage has been facing serious difficulties and they have not been sexually intimate for eight months.
“Well, you are in a sexless relationship,” I explain, “when you have sex less than 15 times in a year then the marriage is defined as sexless.”
There was silence. Winnie looks down, her eyes fixed on her feet. She then lifts her head and looks at me. There are tears welling up in her eyes.
“I do not want to do this, I do not want a divorce, I wish there was a better option, please help me,” she says, tears rolling down her cheeks. Her distress is obvious.
Winnie’s problem is that her husband has bad breath. It had increasingly become intolerable. She could no longer talk to him in close proximity. She could not kiss him. When in bed she requested him to face away from her.
While dating, Winnie always gave him mint to chew. She advised him to brush after meals. She would buy him potent toothpaste.
“I avoided telling him directly about the bad breath because I knew it would kill his ego, I hoped that my actions would make him realise his problem,” Winnie explains.
After marriage, it became more and more difficult for Winnie to control Fred. The mouth odour got intense by the day. In her frustration, she diverted her attention to her children.
“I have reached my limit, I cannot move close to him, we are not intimate at all,” she says.
But Fred continued to demand sex. Sometimes he forced her into it. He was in fact beginning to turn violent whenever Winnie pushed him away. It was for this reason that Winnie thought it was safer to separate. She told him that she wanted a divorce. His reply was that they were as good as divorced already and she could proceed with her plans. That reply was a wake-up call. It made her realise how much they had drifted apart. She had to take immediate action to remedy the situation or leave altogether.
Bad breath, I explain to Winnie, is a common problem and an intimacy breaker. It is also called halitosis. Telling your partner that his or her breath is terrible can land you in trouble. It can make them lose self-confidence. Yet keeping quiet about it does not help either and can endanger the sustainability of the relationship.
“But what causes it? Can it not be cured?” Winnie asks.
Halitosis commonly happens when certain types of bacteria have colonised the back of the tongue. They may also spread to the gums. The bacteria break down proteins releasing bad-smelling chemicals. Treatment involves eliminating the bacteria and maintaining good oral hygiene to prevent recurrence.
Foods such as garlic, onions, coffee and some types of fish leave the mouth with an unpleasant smell for many hours. They can worsen halitosis. The situation is made worse by smoking and alcohol.
A number of other diseases affecting the teeth, gums, nose, sinuses, lungs and digestive system can bring about halitosis. In rare cases, halitosis can be the result of diseases of the liver, kidneys and diabetes among others.
It is therefore very important that a full medical examination is done to identify the cause and have targeted treatment. As such, I advised Winnie to bring her husband to the clinic the next day for a full assessment.
Fred, was in the clinic the next morning. He did not seem surprised when I informed him that his marriage was on the rocks due to halitosis. Incidentally, his peers had stigmatised and called him names when he was in high school because of his bad breath.
“Just do what is possible to cure this problem doctor,” he said, “a lot is at stake.”
After a full medical examination, the cause of his halitosis was found to be the common one – bacteria in the tongue and gums. Treatment yielded good results though with frequent recurrence.
The couple had to undergo sex and intimacy coaching as well to recreate their lost sex life. It was close to three months before they could be intimate again.