Humans have been battling bad breath for thousands of years, and the many advances in this field have benefited those with both temporary and chronic halitosis. While technology has evolved, the basic concepts of bad breath treatment have remained similar in some ways. The following looks at the history of bad breath treatment up to the present day.
Ancient Bad Breath Cures

Ancient cultures had many ways of treating bad breath. While some were pleasant, others were downright disgusting. Parsley, still a common breath freshener, was popular with the Romans for use after meals. In the region that is now Iraq, people ate cloves after dining on pungent native cuisine. People throughout the Middle East chewed mastic gum, a tree resin that is still popular today for freshening breath. The ancient Chinese had some of the most bizarre bad breath control. For example, many traditional Chinese doctors recommended chewing crushed egg shells to grind off the plaque and grime that caused oral odor.

Middle Ages and Renaissance Breath Freshening

Doctors in medieval Europe had a powerful arsenal of spices and herbal cures for bad breath. While many treatments were similar to modern halitosis treatments, others were extreme by today’s standards. For example, one 12th-century halitosis treatment advised women to use wine as mouthwash following meals and then wipe their teeth clean with a cloth. Later in the Renaissance, a popular breath treatment involved chewing a mixture of pepper, mint and rock salt and then swallowing. By the 1500s, people were beginning to use an early mint mouthwash, which was prepared by steeping mint in vinegar. Other Renaissance breath treatments included rubbing teeth with powders made of burned rosemary and mixtures of sage and salt.
Oral Bacteria Discovered

In the 17th century, Anton van Leeuwenhoek looked through his homemade microscope and observed bacteria living in the human mouth. He also discove
red, through experiments using brandy and vinegar, that not all of those organisms could be eliminated using antiseptics. It became clear that oral bacteria could be kept in check using dental hygiene, but the odors they produced had to be tackled head-on.

1800s Bad Breath Treatment Advances

The 19th century saw the introduction of the first major mouthwash brand, which is still popular today. Listerine was inspired by Joseph Lister, an English Surgeon who was working to create an antiseptic formula to prevent infections associated with surgery. Joseph Joshua Lawrence, the creator of the new mouthwash, mixed alcohol with eucalyptol, thymol and menthol for the treatment of bad breath as well as gingivitis and tooth decay. Mouthwash was soon found on pharmacy shelves everywhere.

Halitosis Treatment in the 1900s

The 20th century saw a huge expansion of the breath mint and mouthwash market, but advances sped up as soon as scientists pinpointed the cause of halitosis. The 20th century saw a huge expansion of the breath mint and mouthwash market, but advances sped up as soon as scientists pinpointed the cause of halitosis. In 1964, Dr. Tonzetich found that the smell usually associated with bad breath was the result of volatile sulfur compounds from certain bacteria. Although these bacteria were understood to be natural, they were clearly a problem when they grew out of control. This discovery changed the landscape of bad breath treatment.    

Modern Advances in Breath Treatment

Breath mints and basic mouthwash products remain popular, but consumers can now choose from an array of specially designed products that confront bad breath from multiple angles. Irrigation systems, for flushing bacteria from the sinuses and nasal passages, are effective for many people. BreathGemz, power dual-action breath fresheners, are also popular. Others prefer to use a combination of approaches to fight halitosis from every possible angle. Thanks to modern halitosis research and the comprehensive selection of products offered by companies specializing in bad breath treatment, modern consumers have better chances of ridding themselves of halitosis compared to many others throughout the long, colorful history of this human struggle.

About the author: Dr. Anthony Dailley is a practicing dentist that specializes in halitosis treatment. He has been practicing since 1981 and graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Cell & Molecular Biology, and obtained his dental degree from the Pacific School of Dentistry. Dr. Dailley founded the Center for Breath Treatment in the San Francisco Bay Area and conducts research on curing halitosis. Dr. Dailley has also been a founder in a biotech company called NovaBay Pharmaceuticals and on their board of directors from 1997 -2014.