Interventions for managing bad breath

Review question

With this Cochrane Review we tried to find out the best way to control bad breath, also called halitosis, due to a disease within the mouth in adults.

Background

Bad breath or halitosis is caused by too much bacteria or small food parts left inside the mouth, most commonly at the back of the tongue. It can be a sign of a disease within the mouth or other body diseases. People with bad breath can have low self-esteem and feel embarrassed. It can affect their personal relationships and work. In this review, we looked at treatments for bad breath due to a disease within the mouth and at treatments that aim to control not just mask bad breath.

Study characteristics

This review is up-to-date as of 8 April 2019. The review includes 44 studies involving 1809 people who were 17 to 77 years old. The review compared an intervention with another intervention, a placebo or a control. It looked at eight different ways to control bad breath: mechanical cleaning (e.g. tongue cleaners and toothbrushes), chewing gums, systemic deodorising agents (e.g. mushroom extract that you eat), topical agents (e.g. gel that you apply), toothpastes, mouthrinse/mouthwash, tablets, and combination of different treatments.

Key results

The evidence was very uncertain for mechanical tongue cleaning versus no tongue cleaning, 0.6% eucalyptus chewing gum versus placebo chewing gum, 1000 mg mushroom extract versus placebo, hinokitiol gel versus placebo gel, 0.3% triclosan toothpaste versus control toothpaste, mouthwash containing chlorhexidine and zinc acetate versus placebo mouthwash, and brushing plus cetylpyridium mouthwash versus brushing.

Harmful effects of the different interventions were not reported or were not important.

Certainty of the evidence

The level of certainty we have in these findings is low to very low. This was due mainly to risk of bias and the small number of people studied in the included trials.

Conclusion

We do not have enough evidence to say which intervention works better to control bad breath.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found low- to very low-certainty evidence to support the effectiveness of interventions for managing halitosis compared to placebo or control for the OLT and patient-reported outcomes tested. We were unable to draw any conclusions regarding the superiority of any intervention or concentration. Well-planned RCTs need to be conducted by standardising the interventions and concentrations.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Halitosis or bad breath is a symptom in which a noticeably unpleasant breath odour is present due to an underlying oral or systemic disease. 50% to 60% of the world population has experienced this problem which can lead to social stigma and loss of self-confidence. Multiple interventions have been tried to control halitosis ranging from mouthwashes and toothpastes to lasers. This new Cochrane Review incorporates Cochrane Reviews previously published on tongue scraping and mouthrinses for halitosis.

Objectives: 

The objectives of this review were to assess the effects of various interventions used to control halitosis due to oral diseases only. We excluded studies including patients with halitosis secondary to systemic disease and halitosis-masking interventions.

Search strategy: 

Cochrane Oral Health's Information Specialist searched the following databases: Cochrane Oral Health's Trials Register (to 8 April 2019), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2019, Issue 3) in the Cochrane Library (searched 8 April 2019), MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 8 April 2019), and Embase Ovid (1980 to 8 April 2019). We also searched LILACS BIREME (1982 to 19 April 2019), the National Database of Indian Medical Journals (1985 to 19 April 2019), OpenGrey (1992 to 19 April 2019), and CINAHL EBSCO (1937 to 19 April 2019). The US National Institutes of Health Ongoing Trials Register ClinicalTrials.gov (8 April 2019), the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (8 April 2019), the ISRCTN Registry (19 April 2019), the Clinical Trials Registry - India (19 April 2019), were searched for ongoing trials. We also searched the cross-references of included studies and systematic reviews published on the topic. No restrictions were placed on the language or date of publication when searching the electronic databases.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which involved adults over the age of 16, and any intervention for managing halitosis compared to another or placebo, or no intervention. The active interventions or controls were administered over a minimum of one week and with no upper time limit. We excluded quasi-randomised trials, trials comparing the results for less than one week follow-up, and studies including advanced periodontitis.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two pairs of review authors independently selected trials, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. We estimated mean differences (MDs) for continuous data, with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

We included 44 trials in the review with 1809 participants comparing an intervention with a placebo or a control. The age of participants ranged from 17 to 77 years. Most of the trials reported on short-term follow-up (ranging from one week to four weeks). Only one trial reported long-term follow-up (three months).

Three studies were at low overall risk of bias, 16 at high overall risk of bias, and the remaining 25 at unclear overall risk of bias.

We compared different types of interventions which were categorised as mechanical debridement, chewing gums, systemic deodorising agents, topical agents, toothpastes, mouthrinse/mouthwash, tablets, and combination methods.

Mechanical debridement: for mechanical tongue cleaning versus no tongue cleaning, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported organoleptic test (OLT) scores (MD -0.20, 95% CI -0.34 to -0.07; 2 trials, 46 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Chewing gums: for 0.6% eucalyptus chewing gum versus placebo chewing gum, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported OLT scores (MD -0.10, 95% CI -0.31 to 0.11; 1 trial, 65 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Systemic deodorising agents: for 1000 mg champignon versus placebo, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome patient-reported visual analogue scale (VAS) scores (MD -1.07, 95% CI -14.51 to 12.37; 1 trial, 40 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for dentist-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Topical agents: for hinokitiol gel versus placebo gel, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported OLT scores (MD -0.27, 95% CI -1.26 to 0.72; 1 trial, 18 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Toothpastes: for 0.3% triclosan toothpaste versus control toothpaste, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported OLT scores (MD -3.48, 95% CI -3.77 to -3.19; 1 trial, 81 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Mouthrinse/mouthwash: for mouthwash containing chlorhexidine and zinc acetate versus placebo mouthwash, the evidence was very uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported OLT scores (MD -0.20, 95% CI -0.58 to 0.18; 1 trial, 44 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

Tablets: no data were reported on key outcomes for this comparison.

Combination methods: for brushing plus cetylpyridium mouthwash versus brushing, the evidence was uncertain for the outcome dentist-reported OLT scores (MD -0.48, 95% CI -0.72 to -0.24; 1 trial, 70 participants; low-certainty evidence). No data were reported for patient-reported OLT score or adverse events.

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