If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from being a halitosis professional, it’s that people will try virtually anything to get rid of bad breath. And who can blame them? Oral odor is difficult to get rid of at the best of times, so much so that it’s usually advisable to ditch one’s run-of-the-mill dental products in favor of a specialty breath freshening regimen.
You see, specially formulated, all-natural products can moisten the mouth and oxygenate the palate, thereby neutralizing odors and effectively shoo-ing bacteria out of the oral environment. That’s the open secret of freshening breath: It all boils down to making life hard for your mouth’s microbes.
However, it’s important to do so without synthetic chemicals, irritants, allergens or other harsh substances. These ingredients generally make little or no progress in fighting bacteria; instead, they irritate the tissues in your mouth and parch your palate, making bad breath worse.
Yet these are the types of ingredients many Americans saturate their mouths with every day. And if you think that people won’t go to extremes in the effort to eliminate halitosis, well, buckle up.
Here is a list of some of the bizarrest substances used at one time or another in the fight against oral odor. And before you sneer at them, keep in mind that some of them are probably lurking in your medicine cabinet right now.
Green tea: The tooth-staining qualities of green tea are legendary. (Eccentric dictator Mao Zedong famously forewent brushing his teeth in favor of gargling with green tea. He evidently prided himself on his moss-green teeth, reasoning that “a tiger never brushes his teeth.”) Still, scientists are constantly looking for ways to get the verdant beverage its own line of toothpastes and mouth rinses, as in this recent study. While green tea contains substances that may inhibit microbial growth, using it by itself does no one’s pearly whites any favors.
Alcohol: While rinsing your mouth with an alcohol-based mouthwash may sound different than gargling with cheap bourbon, the effect is remarkably similar. In both cases, the hardiest microbes in your mouth survive the assault, while the alcohol parches your palate and gives anaerobic bacteria the dry environment they need in order to recolonize. Skip the alcohol-based stuff (including the bourbon).
Antibiotics: If microorganisms are the problem, why not zap them with drugs? Well, even if that doesn’t sound like a bad idea to you (and it really should), studies like this recent one in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicate that it wouldn’t make a difference. The report found that sinusitis – a major cause of post-nasal drip and, hence, bad breath – is just as effectively treated with your own immune system as it is with mild antibiotics. Such prescriptions are best left for serious infections and medical emergencies.
Detergent: Don’t laugh. You might be thinking Who puts detergent in their mouth?, but take a peek at the ingredients label on your toothpaste. If it lists sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), then the answer is: You do. As noted in this health article, SLS is a surfactant – that is, a detergent and foaming agent. It is also a common ingredient in cheap toothpastes and mouthwashes. SLS can irritate your cheeks and gums, potentially leading to canker sores. Steer clear of it!
Pesticide: Does your toothpaste also contain an antimicrobial called triclosan? Well, unless you have a locust infestation in your mouth, you don’t need to be using it. That’s because triclosan is a pesticide. Check out the relevant EPA page here.
Blue jean dye: Still got that toothpaste label handy? If you see “FD&C blue dye No. 2″ listed on it, then you might want to consider throwing it out. This substance is an allergen, an irritant and the exact same dye used to stain your jeans blue.
Lasers: Recently, much hay has been made of the advantages of using laser treatments to clear up gingivitis or periodontal disease. However, before you let an oral care specialist target your gums with a high-powered laser, ask yourself, Does this really sound like a good idea? The American Academy of Periodontology sure doesn’t doesn’t think so. Their webpage on the topic warns that lasers can do serious harm, noting that “there is insufficient evidence to suggest that any specific laser wavelength is superior to the traditional treatment methods of the common periodontal diseases.”
Cigarettes: If only this were a joke. From 1927 to 1932, a prominent mouthwash brand sold its own line of cigarettes. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over well. It’s no wonder. The notion that smoking, rather than giving you horrible breath, can clear it up? It’s laughable, as was the ad copy used to hawk these things: e.g. “Impregnated with the essence of antiseptic, these cigarettes are just the thing for ‘super-sensitive throats.'” Consumers weren’t buying it (literally).
So remember, rather than going to extremes in the name of fresh breath, it’s better to simply stick to the time-tested specialty products that will get the job done.