Humans (and lions, and bears) have chronic halitosis
SUMMARY: While the scientific treatment of chronic halitosis may sound new, people have been exploring the topic for thousands of years. In fact, early mentions of the condition could be quite accurate about its causes - though sometimes they were also downright weird.
Posted: October 12, 2011
While the scientific treatment of chronic halitosis may sound new, people have been exploring the topic for thousands of years. In fact, early mentions of the condition could be quite accurate about its causes - though sometimes they were also downright weird.
For instance, Hippocrates - an ancient Greek physician nicknamed "the Father of Western Medicine" - mentioned bad breath in his voluminous tracts on disease. His recommendation for eliminating oral odor was simple. As laid out in paper appearing in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Hippocrates' remedy involved gargling wine, dill and anise, a licorice-flavored root.
Today, such a treatment for chronic halitosis wouldn't fly, but at the time it was at the forefront of of scientific bad breath treatment. What Hippocrates didn't know - and what mankind wouldn't prove for more than two millennia - is that halitosis is primarily caused by bacteria.
While garlic and onions can certainly stain your breath for a day or two, the microbes in your mouth are responsible for chronic halitosis. These tiny critters create oral odor by digesting food particles on your tongue and emitting noxious gases.
Ancient scholars had an inkling of germ theory, but not much more than that. In his treatise On Agriculture, Marcus Terrentius Varro, a Roman statesman often credited with writing the first encyclopedia (now lost), mentioned his suspicion that tiny living things cause health problems.
"Precautions must also be taken in the neighborhood of swamps," he wrote, "because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases."
Some might have thought Varro crazy, but science has since proven that "minute creatures" cause all sorts of health conditions, including bad breath.
Who gets chronic bad breath? Roman scholars had an answer for that, too. Pliny the Elder touches on halitosis in his Historia Naturalis, the earliest extant encyclopedia - and according to a 1929 issue of The Classical Weekly, his discussion of the condition includes more than just humans.
"The lion and the bear 'have 'halitosis,' the bear terribly," Pliny states in his encyclopedia. "No other animal touches anything that has come in contact with their breath." He does not mention how he happened to gather this intelligence.
While apex predators cannot take advantage of specialty breath fresheners, you certainly can.