That's the conclusion of a recent study showing that many people are way off the mark in assessing how their breath smells -- whether good or bad.
"While many develop faulty perceptions about having bad breath that affect their entire lives, others who have halitosis [bad breath] are unaware of their condition," say researchers at Israel's Tel Aviv University.
In their study, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, the researchers found that when it comes to breath quality, most people fall into one of two categories: "worriers" and "non-worriers."
When asked to rate their own breath, the "worriers" in the study had much harsher assessments of its quality than did impartial judges, while the assessments of "non-worriers" were more consistent with those of the judges.
Mel Rosenberg, head of the Laboratory in Oral Microbiology at Tel Aviv University, says the discrepancies in how people assess their own breath present an ongoing challenge for oral hygienists.
"From our research, it appears that people who worry about having bad breath harbor a self-image of how bad their breath is, and that strongly affects any attempt toward objective self-estimation," he says. "These self-images are hard to change, even following objective improvements in odor."
Dr. Richard Price, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association, says whether you're a "worrier" or a "non-worrier," accurate breath assessment is tricky for everyone.
"It's like hearing your own voice -- you say, 'Is that really me?' And it's because physically, we really can't tell. Even if you cup your hands [to smell your breath], you can have a problem because usually you just can't tell. Some people are almost socially paralyzed with concerns about their breath, and others are totally oblivious to it," Price says.
But there's nothing mysterious about preventing most cases of unpleasant breath, he adds.
"To combat bad breath, what you usually need to do is get rid of the bacteria that's causing it," Price says. "And you can do that by cleaning the tongue with the various commercial tongue scrapers that are available, or even with a spoon or your toothbrush."
Mouthwashes, despite claims of "killing germs on contact," can't be trusted to do the trick, he adds.
"It's basically like putting on any kind of deodorant," Price says. "If you have underarm odor, putting deodorant on top of it isn't going to make it go away. And it's the same with mouth odors."