The history of Listerine® is quite fascinating, chronicling the shifts which a product undergoes along its way to becoming famous. Listerine® has been used historically for all sorts of things, from cleaning floors to treating gonorrhea; it wasn't until the 1970s that Listerine® came to be used exclusively as a mouthwash. This product also essentially created the mouthwash section at the drugstore, by generating consumer demand for products to treat bad breath.
Listerine® is named for Doctor Joseph Lister, who pioneered the idea of using disinfectants in hospitals and during surgery. Lister's work paved the way to the modern antiseptic operating room, and he is responsible for a dramatic downturn in patient mortality which occurred in the 19th century. Listerine® was originally formulated in 1879 by Dr. Nicole Dyer Lawrence and Christian Bach as a surgical antiseptic. It was used to clean surgical sites and irrigate wounds, reducing the risk of dangerous infections after surgery.
By 1895, Listerine® was also being used in dental care, and in 1914 Listerine® became the first mouthwash to be offered over the counter without a prescription. The company claimed that Listerine® would eliminate bad breath, and also that it could be used to treat colds and sore throats. At the time, Listerine® was also used to clean wounds on the field in battle during the First World War, and doctors used it as an all-purpose antiseptic as well.
In the 1920s, the manufacturers of Listerine® started a bold advertising campaign which was designed to target bad breath. Before the advent of this campaign, bad breath was not a major concern for most people; the Listerine® manufacturers popularized the term "halitosis" and put bad breath into the forefront of the minds of consumers, encouraging them to solve the problem with regular Listerine® usage. Sales of the product exploded, and bad breath became a major social concern.
This marketing campaign marked a major transition in the history of a product which was originally designed for use as an antiseptic, and the primary use for Listerine® began to shift to oral care, although claims of cough and cold efficacy endured until the 1970s. Modern consumers can choose between multiple formulations which are designed to attack germs in the mouth in the hopes of creating better oral health in addition to reducing bad breath. Although Listerine® can be an effective supplement to regular oral care, flossing and brushing are highly recommended, as are trips to a dentist to monitor your oral health.