It’s easy to be pulled in by breath mints when you have bad breath. Oral odor can make you extremely self-conscious, and breath mints seem to offer an immediate cure. “Seem to” is the operative phrase, because most breath mints are ineffective.
Breath mints, as well as gum, chews, strips and sprays, are big business in the U.S. According to the annual Market for Gum, Mints and Breath Fresheners Report, American breath mint sales topped $746 million in 2002, and have since climbed to over $1 billion. Mint companies spend millions of dollars on advertising depicting hapless but handsome young men and women overcoming adversity by popping a lozenge in their mouths.
What they neglect to mention is that breath mints largely make your mouth taste, rather than smell, better. Breath mints are no substitute for a toothbrush, since many mints contain sugar.
Sugar wreaks havoc on the teeth, contributing to tooth decay and gingivitis, both of which are common causes of bad breath. Sugar also provides food for odor-causing bacteria, which feed on protein or sucrose in the mouth and give off noxious sulfides as a byproduct of their digestion, leaving the mouth smelling terrible.
Sugar substitutes like saccharine and aspartame may also contribute to bad breath by merely covering up the smell. However, a few select sugar-free mints treat bad breath by being formulated to neutralize the sulfuric compounds that make breath smell.
A mint may temporarily mask the smell of halitosis, but in the long run it may leave the mouth smelling worse than it did before. Breath mints, like any other food, can contribute to tonsil stones and tartar, both of which smell strongly when they are far enough advanced.
Similar products don’t seem to overcome these problems, either. Breath sprays often contain alcohol, which dries the mouth out and leaves a fertile environment for bacteria to grow in. Some newer lozenges even contain dissolvable tobacco, which may leave an appalling tang in the breath.
Overall, a productive way to get rid of halitosis involves brushing and flossing regularly, scraping the tongue free of food particles, and investing in specialty breath fresheners, particularly those that moisten the mouth to keep bacteria and bad breath at bay.