Not all bad breath treatments are created equal. While some effectively neutralize the volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) created by oral bacteria, others simply mask the scent. Still others claim to address secondary issues, like pulmonary or digestive problems. A patent medicine popular in the 1920s for treating digestive constriction ran into an unusual marketing problem in the '30s.
Dr. Edwards' Olive Tablets were a fairly successful patent medicine marketed as a "pleasant, sugar-coated tablet...taken for bad breath," according to an advertisement in the Spokane Daily Chronicle.
It is unclear how effective they were at clearing up halitosis, since the tablets' four primary ingredients were all laxatives. However, the product ran into bigger problems in 1935, when a German politician began using a design on its label for his flag.
The politician was Adolph Hitler; the design was an ancient Native American symbol - the swastika. Edwards had originally chosen the hooked cross to symbolize the "Indian herbal lore" behind the product, according to the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.
It was an unlucky choice, and even with a label change the product slipped out of popular use.
Today, the most successful specialty breath fresheners rely less on packaging and more on results. Those that eliminate VSCs and moisten the mouth may most thoroughly eliminate bad breath.