Bad breath stinks—literally! And it’s even worse when you’re the culprit.
Unfortunately, bad breath happens to the best of us. But if popping breath mints, chewing gum, and obsessing over your oral hygiene hasn’t helped your condition, then it might be time to consider the idea that your bad breath is part of a larger problem.
This may feel a little embarrassing to read, but don’t worry—we’re here to help! And there’s good news: That unexplained sour taste in your mouth (and accompanying funky odor) is not your fault, especially if you suffer from chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
So, how does GERD contribute to bad breath (a.k.a halitosis), anyway? And what can you do to relieve these foul-tasting symptoms?
We broke it down to help you eliminate all-day morning breath once and for all.
Garlic, onions, and tobacco products have been known to cause a stink in your mouth, and everyone knows what it’s like to wake up with morning breath. But if your bad breath goes beyond eating a particularly potent lunch or the normal buildup of bacteria while you sleep, it might be a symptom of GERD.
Chronic acid reflux or GERD, occurs when your stomach acid flows backward into your esophagus, or the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Not only does this acid irritate the lining of your esophagus and cause a burning sensation in your chest (cue heartburn!), but this backward flow of stomach contents (think: undigested food, regurgitate bile, and stomach acids) can creep into your mouth via a foul odor.
Halitosis is typically caused by odor-producing bacteria that grow in your mouth when you skip brushing and flossing a few too many times. For most people, bad breath will go away simply by brushing your teeth and rinsing with mouthwash.
But bad breath caused by GERD is a little different. That’s because you can’t always control when this backflow of stomach acid will occur. Certain foods, laying down, and stress can all trigger acid reflux. And according to research, your risk of experiencing halitosis rises as the severity of your GERD-related symptoms increase.
“Bad breath from GERD may not actually smell any different from other causes of bad breath,” says Dr. Gil Weitzman, a gastroenterologist and Evens advisor. This can make it difficult to diagnose without the help of a professional.
Some people, however, may experience a very foul smell, like undigested food mixed with acid and bacteria, Dr. Weitzman says. This can cause fermentation, releasing a repulsive sulfur-like smell in your mouth.
Breath that smells like rotten eggs definitely warrants a visit to your doctor.
And if you’re experiencing ambiguous, unexplainable bad breath that doesn’t seem especially putrid, make an appointment with your dentist. A dentist can rule out other more common causes of bad breath, like poor oral care and gum disease, and check for signs of GERD by evaluating your mouth and throat.
Many foods may trigger and aggravate acid reflux, resulting in bad breath. Figuring out your food triggers and eating a GERD-friendly diet can reduce your chances of experiencing symptoms. Lifestyle modifications, like getting enough sleep and exercise, are also important, as stress and being overweight can increase your chances of experiencing acid reflux.
Less acid reflux means less backflow, which means less stinky breath—so talk to your doctor about what options are best for you.
Remember: Consistent bad breath can be a sign of GERD, but it doesn’t have to leave a bad taste in your mouth (literally). Decrease your risk of a foul mouth by getting your condition in check—and keeping a fresh tin of mints nearby.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
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