History of oral health: Did our ancestors care about bad breath?

Bad breath is a problem that’s been around for centuries. The cause remains the same: sulfur-producing bacteria that feed on food stuck in the mouth.

Ancient times

To tackle the problem, those in the medieval Arab empire chewed on twigs. Ancient Egyptians made mints and toothpaste with frankincense, myrrh and natron (also used for embalming mummies).

15th Century

The Chinese were the first to try brushing teeth to fight bad breath by using toothbrushes with bristles made of hog’s hair.


Tins of breath fresheners called “cachous” (kuh-shoo) – made from ingredients such as musk, violet essence, rose essence, licorice and cinnamon oil – became popular in Europe and the U.S.


English surgeon Joseph Lister developed an antiseptic to kill bacteria during surgery. The idea later inspired Dr. Joseph Lawrence to create his own formula called Listerine. For decades, the liquid was used to clean feet, scrub floors and more before being used to fight bad breath.

Banish bad breath by maintaining a good oral health routine. If the problem persists, chat with your dentist. It may be a sign of gum disease, dry mouth, diabetes, sinus and digestive problems, or liver and kidney disease.