Is Reflux Giving You Bad Breath?? (And What To Do About it!)
Oh boy. Everyone dreads this one...
You’re out with a friend or a date, talking and laughing, feeling totally confident. And then mid-sentence you pause for just a millisecond…
Did they just ever-so-slightly lean away from you?
Away from your face??
We have all been there.
Maybe you ate too many onions, maybe it was the coffee, maybe you forgot to brush your teeth, or maybe you have a tooth rotting away in your mouth (um, fix that please - very bad for you).
But sometimes it’s none of these things. Sometimes it’s a sneaky cause that no one told you about growing up...
We’re taught all about the mouth-related reasons for bad breath (or halitosis), but there seems to be surprisingly little awareness about another extremely common cause of bad breath – REFLUX.
Reflux. Heartburn. GERD.
This is a topic near to my heart because I struggled for years with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder). And I’m still a bit susceptible. It’s a bit too easy for this problem to rear its ugly head – if I overeat, if I eat in a rush, if I eat 3 tacos, chips and salsa while sipping a margarita. Oopsy.
See, what happens when you are having reflux is that the contents of the stomach come up ("reflux") into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube food goes down when we swallow. And while it is indeed food that comes up, it has already been mixed with digestive juices in the stomach...
So it’s really not meant to return to the outside world via the esophagus and mouth. It’s acidic and smells like the stomach...which, it turns out, doesn’t smell that great.
So sometimes you can brush and floss and eat mints ‘til the cows come home and your breath still smells, because it’s not about your mouth.
Funny I happen to mention cows…because they actually have 4 chambers in their stomachs, and regurgitate and re-chew food as part of their normal digestive process!
I am willing to bet cows do not have nice breath, so let’s not try to take a page out of their book. Agreed?
So how do you know if your bad breath is due to reflux?
Here are some clues that this might be your problem:
- Your bad breath seems to follow a pattern related to eating...after meals, after overeating, when you’re really hungry, when you have dessert, when y0u eat something you shouldn't, when you eat spicy food, etc.
- Your bad breath follows a pattern related to digestive symptoms...burping, upper abdomen bloating, etc.
- It’s worse after smoking, alcohol or caffeine.
- You have a sour or metallic taste in your mouth
- You have a scratchy throat, tickly cough, keep having to clear your throat and you’re not sick.
- Your breath smells sour. (Ask a loved one or good friend.)
- You already know you suffer from reflux/GERD/heartburn.
What can you do about bad breath caused by reflux?
Well, in the long run you will want to treat the underlying problem – the cause of the GERD/reflux.
That’s a complicated topic that we don’t have time to tackle fully in this blog post. I don’t recommend a lot of the common medications used for GERD (like proton pump inhibitors) because I think they’re bad for your health in the long-term. So contact your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor to get proper treatment for GERD. (And look out for future posts by me delving more into that topic!)
In the meantime...
One thing I will tell you about GERD/reflux is that a big part of the problem is that the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is not closing properly. And a very important factor in keeping that LES closed is adequate stomach acid.
That’s important to understand as we go through some of these helpful tips to try on the fly…
Quick Treatments For Bad Breath From Reflux:
- Chug a glass of water: First thing! (This is less ideal if you just ate a huge meal.)
- Fresh parsley: This can be helpful for any type of bad breath. Grab some garnish off a plate and chew!
- Lemon: Stimulate stagnant digestion and the closing of that LES ... Is that ever-so-slight leaning away thing happening while out at a bar on a date? Ask the bartender for a lemon wedge!
- Tsp of ACV 10 minutes before meals: Stimulate your stomach acid so you digest better.
- Calcium antacids (Tums): These neutralize acidity. Not ideal right after a meal, but can help in a pinch. (I'm also not a fan of the artificial colors and additives.)
- DGL chews: DGL stands for deglycyrrhizinated licorice. These can provide symptomatic relief without affecting stomach acid to the extent of calcium antacids.
- Don’t overeat: An overly full stomach will put more pressure up on the LES and worsen reflux.
- Don’t put off eating and just have coffee in the morning. This can increase acid.
- Take deep belly breaths after eating: Pull down your diaphragm while simultaneously stimulating the “rest & digest” nervous system.
Bonus tip: AVOID MINT. This herb often relaxes the LES and makes reflux worse.
With just a bit of awareness and effort you can absolutely reduce this very unwelcome issue! Dive in and give it a shot! :)