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The crazy, orgiastic history of breath fresheners

Before man could purge his tongue of garlic with gum, mints, mouthwash, or Booty Parlor breath spray, he had to get by with some humble alternatives. But our ancestors never stopped finding new ways to keep their breath smelling great, whether they were ancient Greek physicians or mildly slutty sultans. So here's a quick guide to some of their early inventions, in case things get dire when your drugstore runs out of Tic Tacs.

Early 400s - Late 300s BC: The most famous authority on what exactly you should be doing to your body, Hippocrates, recommended mouth-rinsing with a mixture of alum, salt, and vinegar.

310 BC: And soon after, Greek philosopher Theophrastus helpfully alerted his brethren that citron can "sweeten the breath". Then he wrote ten books on plants.

Outre Monde
Sometime in Ancient Rome: The toga collective chewed on sprigs of parsley to hide their depraved liquor breath.

Circa 100s AD: After tapping sapodilla trees and then boiling the sap into a gum, the Mayans and Aztecs started the trend of chewing "chicle". An opportunistic American named Thomas Adams would later swipe the concept from the president of Mexico to create modern chewing gum.

600s: Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to chew on a miswak, a twig from the arak tree and an old forerunner to the toothbrush. It's still very much around, and even has the World Health Organization's seal of approval.

1000s or 1100s: Medieval Italian female doctor Trotula (whatever, Elizabeth Blackwell) recommended in one of her women's health books that any lady looking to freshen her breath and whiten her teeth "wash her mouth after dinner with very good wine" and then dry her teeth with a white cloth and chew fennel or parsley.
Wikicommons/Slashme
Late 1500s: After conquering most of Greece, the new Turkish rulers developed a particular fondness for the mastic gum produced in Chios. Rumor has it that one sultan was an especially big fan, because he gave it to all the ladies in his harem.

1780: Smith Kendon created the "stomach calmative" Altoids, which eventually stopped pretending to be Alka-Seltzer and copped to being a mint instead.

Late 1800s: Coming out of Rochester, NY, Sen-Sen was a hugely popular "breath perfume" that came in little black squares and generally appealed to the manliest, most mustached men of the time.
Kilmer House
1920s: Americans started stocking up on Listerine, a former surgical antiseptic (and a former floor cleaner... and a former home cure for gonorrhea) turned treatment for bad breath or "chronic halitosis". In case you hadn't heard, halitosis makes you a total loser.

1950s: Colgate reached back into their fourth grade science projects and tapped chlorophyll -- that green pigment plants use to photosynthesize -- for their newest toothpaste. It helpfully promised to "destroy bad breath originating in the mouth."

1971: After shilling toothpaste and this highly confusing, highly amusing "tooth cream" for women, Binaca attempted to help smelly suitors everywhere through these ads for its golden breath spray.

2000: Pfizer developed dissolvable breath strips, prompting on-the-go halitosis sufferers to grapple with the weird sensation in their mouth for the next thirteen years.

Kristin Hunt is a food/drink staff writer for Thrillist. Some of her strongest friendships are built on cheeseburgers. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.

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