Myth: Mouthwashes Eliminate Bad Breath

ByABC News
October 14, 2005, 1:44 PM

Oct. 14, 2005 — -- Bad breath is probably one of the most embarrassing of the personal hygiene "no-no's." We've all been there ... but what's the best way to get rid of it?

Germ expert Dr. Phillip Tierno, a professor at New York University, says the most common cause of this "social disease" is bad dental care. The source of the odor, he says, is often particles of food stuck in between the teeth and an accumulation of bacteria in the back of the throat. "When you get a concentration of bacterial-producing malodorous chemicals coming from the lack of oral hygiene ... It has the equivalent odor of feces," he said. What a stomach-turning thought! And it's also the reason why we brush and floss -- and use mouthwash.

But here's something we learned: According to many experts, mouthwash does not eliminate bad breath. The mouthwash works at first -- killing lots of germs. Then, the bad news. Tierno says that the bad breath you wanted to prevent gets even worse. He says the alcohol content present in many mouthwashes can dry your mouth out. When the saliva glands are dry, they are unable to help wash away bacteria so the stinky stuff flourishes.

Mouthwash companies say their mouthwashes are effective and they have their own studies that show that alcohol does not dry out the mouth.

Tierno disagrees. He points to the fact that babies have sweet breath because they manufacture lots of saliva; they are drooling all the time. This constant draining of saliva, among other things, helps to keep baby's breath clean.

The companies that produce alcohol-based mouthwashes insist their products are proven to work effectively. Scope and Lavoris also say they have low amounts of alcohol. Listerine, which has up to 27 percent, sent "202/20" a statement saying it has a study proving Listerine actually increases the flow of saliva.

Tierno offers these suggestions to manage bad breath:

Floss all of your teeth well.