Epidemiological data on halitosis are rare. In this study we evaluated the prevalence of halitosis in the population of the city of Bern, Switzerland, using a standardized questionnaire and clinical examination. First of all, a standardized questionnaire was filled out by all 419 participants. In the clinical examination, 'objective' values for halitosis were gathered through two different organoleptic assessments and by the measurement of volatile sulfur compounds (VSC). Additionally, tongue coating and the modified periodontal screening index (PSI) were evaluated for each participant. The questionnaire revealed that 32% of all subjects sometimes or often experienced halitosis. The organoleptic evaluation (grade 0-5) identified 48 persons with grade 3 and higher. Measurement of VSC identified 117 subjects (28%) with readings of >or= 75 parts per billion (ppb). Tongue coating, modified PSI, and smoking were significantly associated with higher organoleptic scores, and tongue coating and smoking were associated with higher VSC values. For about one-third of the Bernese city population, halitosis seems to pose an oral health problem. Only a weak correlation between self-reported halitosis and either organoleptic or VSC measurements could be detected.