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Sorry, Listerine Didn’t Invent Bad Breath

It’s a symptom of the Internet age that medical skeptics can find all kinds of reasons to doubt the “medical establishment.” Often, this is the form of factoids that may be actual truths blown out of proportion, half-truths that are misinterpreted, or outright falsehoods. One particular factoid that’s making the rounds right now is that Listerine “invented” the medical condition of bad breath to sell more mouthwash, which is, frankly, not true.

Medicine vs. Marketing

Listerine and Bad BreathThe Io9 article purports that bad breath really didn’t exist before Listerine came along and told people they had it, but the facts of their own argument–and their source–flatly contradict their story.

The argument hinges on the fact that in 1921, George Lambert, the son of Listerine founder Jordan Wheat Lambert, coined the term “halitosis” to describe bad breath. This is true, but it’s a far cry from him actually inventing bad breath or creating a need that people didn’t perceive before.

Listerine was first marketed in the 1880s as an all-purpose antiseptic, but it proved its effectiveness primarily for combating infections in the mouth. At first, it was only available as a prescription medication. Starting in 1914, it was considered so effective and popular as a treatment that it became available over-the-counter. This was before the condition “halitosis” was coined.

This is not to say that the coining of halitosis and the advertising campaign emphasizing that bad breath could make you a pariah didn’t have a major impact. It did. Along with changing social consciousness that made us ripe for this type of advertising, the new advertising approach increased the company’s income by more than 80-fold over the next decade.

Bad Breath Is a Serious Condition

But the effectiveness of the marketing campaign doesn’t take away from the fact that bad breath has long been a recognized condition (Munsey notes that it’s been seen in medical texts for at least 3000 years), and is today understood as a sign of potentially serious problems.

Persistent bad breath is normally a sign of uncontrolled bacterial infection in the mouth. It’s caused by the growth of anaerobic bacteria–bacteria that don’t like oxygen–and it often signals that bacteria are spreading in areas that oxygen doesn’t reach, such as below the gum line or inside your teeth. If you have persistent bad breath, it may mean that you need gum disease treatment or a root canal. Or you may just need to change your oral hygiene, which may or may not include using mouthwash. Only a dentist can tell for sure.

If you are having trouble with persistent bad breath in San Diego and want to learn how to combat it, please call (619) 299-5925 for an appointment at Strober Dental today.

By |February 4th, 2015|Bad Breath, Gum Disease, Root Canal|