To get rid of bad breath, people may resort to all sorts of creative strategies, some of them effective and others just plain useless. Just where do complementary and alternative therapies (CATs) fall on the spectrum of halitosis treatment? It's hard to say with certainty, but many studies have shown that such treatments don't accomplish nearly as much as specialty breath fresheners do.
In general, CATs are fairly commonly used by the American public. Doctors actually suggest such treatments occasionally, too. According to a survey appearing in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, about 3 percent of U.S. adults have used CATs at the recommendation of their physician.
The team who conducted the survey, a group of scientists from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, said that this figure corresponds to roughly 6.3 million Americans.
Do that many people use CATs to get rid of bad breath? It's hard to say. But what can be stated with some certainty is that not all CATs are created equal.
The University of California, San Diego's Complementary Medicine Library lists a few vitamin supplements as having tentative scientific support for their breath freshening qualities. These include folic acid and zinc chloride, which may improve gum health and neutralize some odors, respectively.
However, most CATs listed by the online library get the lowest possible rating: one star out of three. These CATs include herbs like carraway, myrrh, eucalyptus, mint, sage and thyme. The source even provides a handy disclaimer: "An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit."
Studies of the use of CATs to get rid of bad breath usually come to the same conclusion as that of a report appearing in the Journal of the California Dental Association - namely, that the efficacy of CATs needs to be based on science, not speculation.