Bad breath isn’t an acute health problem – that is, it doesn’t happen suddenly or just once. (Unlike, say, a broken bone or chicken pox.) Instead, halitosis is a chronic condition, one that recurs and, for some people, lasts for years without going away at all. This regularity is what makes specialty breath freshening technology so important. Without alcohol-free mouthwashes, periotherapy rinses or oral care probiotics, it’d be vastly harder to keep oral odor at bay.
While non-specialty products either don’t work or have fleeting effects at best, a few products – many of which are ironically marketed as bad breath “cures” – go so far as to cause bad breath. Here are some of the worst offenders, listed in no particular order.
- Herbs. There’s a lot to be said for herbal remedies. After all, they’re where clinical and specialty treatments came from. Yet, there are two sides to that coin. As Irish stand-up comedian Dara O’Briain puts it, “we tested herbal medicines, and what worked became medicine.” His point, embedded in an extended bit on clinical quackery, is that things that sound too good to be true usually are, particularly if they’re marketed as an alternative treatment with a notably vague mechanism of action. Two good cases in point are cayenne pepper and garlic, both of which routinely get recommended as treatments for canker sores. While both are technically good for you, neither is proven to have any significant effect on oral sores or the odor they cause. And, by the way, cayenne pepper on a canker sore? Not a good idea, unless you want to spend 15 minutes shrieking in pain.
- Licorice root. As with the herbs listed above, licorice is sometimes touted as a treatment for odor-causing canker sores. However, after searching the medical literature on the subject, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) could only find one very small study demonstrating anything to that effect. Larger investigations of licorice root and canker sores just don’t exist, so stick to your specialty breath fresheners for now.
- Lysine. If you’re a fan of the film Jurassic Park, you may remember this substance as the amino acid that engineers made sure dinosaurs couldn’t synthesize for themselves. (Spoiler alert: Pretty much no animals can, humans included.) Well, lysine is an essential amino acid, one found in meats, cheeses and beans, but it isn’t a treatment for canker sores or halitosis. It’s often mistaken for one, though, because lysine supplementation may prevent cold sore outbreaks, as the UMMC notes. However, cold sores are viral (and occur outside the mouth), whereas canker sores are bacterial and affect the gums and inner cheeks, usually necessitating an alcohol-free oral rinse.
- Non-specialty toothpastes. If a toothpaste contains triclosan or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), it may cause bad breath. That’s because both compounds are irritants. The EPA lists triclosan as a pesticide and SLS as a flea and tick repellent.
- Tonsillectomy. According to HealthDay News, about 500,000 kids get their tonsils taken out each year, the majority of them during the summer. Some of the symptoms that lead to tonsillectomies include bad breath and tonsil stones, as listed by the news source. Yet these generally aren’t good reasons to have the surgery, particularly since specialty rinses, sprays and drops can clear up tonsil stones and oral odor just as easily. And major throat surgery may lead to halitosis, soreness and secondary infections, or worse – which is why pediatrician Megan Westbrook told the Daily Herald that very few tonsillectomies are medically necessary. (In most cases, a course of antibiotics will do, she said.)
- Coblation cryptolysis. This experimental treatment for tonsil stones seems to cause bad breath in a very simple way – namely, by not actually working. Coblation cryptolysis (CC) is a technique that uses a combination of salt water gargle and radio waves to “excite” the stones, rattling them loose. Or, at least, that’s the theory. But if you compare a recent press release on CC (which calls it an “effective approach to eradicate tonsil stones”) and the study the release is based on (which describes CC as a “potentially effective approach in the treatment of tonsil stones”), it’s hard to stay optimistic about the procedure.
- Creamy snuff. Of all the bad-breath-causing “remedies” in this list, creamy snuff may be the most dangerous. According to a report drawn up for the Third International Conference on Smokeless Tobacco, this product is a toothpaste made of tobacco, clove oil, glycerin, spearmint, menthol and camphor. Creamy snuff is mainly sold in India, and it is most commonly used by women. And according to study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, this stuff may cause more than bad breath, since it delivers loads of carcinogenic nitrosamines.