Chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a medical condition. Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach contents such as undigested food, regurgitated bile, and stomach acids into your esophagus. This can lead to bad breath.
The primary cause of acid reflux in most people is a faulty or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a valve-like muscle (like a thick rubber band) that forms a barrier between your esophagus and your stomach. When the LES works appropriately, it opens when you swallow to let food enter the stomach, and then it closes tightly. A faulty LES remains open, allowing acids to flow back into your throat.
The regurgitation of stomach contents can cause heartburn and a bitter or sour taste in your mouth. What’s more, you’re also likely to experience bad breath as a result of your symptoms. Bad breath can be controlled not only by managing your GERD, but also by making a few changes.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent reflux, which can help your breath stay fresh.
First, you should quit smoking if you’re currently a smoker. Smoking causes bad breath by itself. Plus, nicotine products cause your LES to relax, allowing acid reflux into your esophagus. Smoking also increases your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, and colon.
Other adjustments to counter GERD symptoms include:
- waiting at least 2 to 3 hours to lie down after you eat
- putting a six-inch board or wedge pillow under the head of your bed to raise your torso and reduce pressure on your LES
- eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals
- reaching and maintaining a healthy weight to help reduce pressure on the LES
- using chewing gum to freshen breath and decrease reflux
Modifying how and what you eat can help relieve GERD symptoms and bad breath. Many foods can aggravate acid reflux by relaxing the LES or increasing acidity in the stomach. Some can also cause bad breath.
You may want to limit or avoid these foods:
- coffee and teas that contain caffeine
- citrus fruits and juices
- tomato products
- spicy foods
- fried or fatty foods
Eat foods that are rich in fiber to fight bad breath. Fiber helps digestion run smoothly so that reflux and obstruction are less likely to occur.
Fibrous foods also keep you feeling full longer and may help you maintain your weight. GERD has been linked to being overweight, so talk to your doctor about losing weight to relieve acid reflux and heartburn. Losing excess weight also decreases your risk of a hiatal hernia, which can also increase GERD symptoms.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to refresh your breath. Water is less likely than other beverages to upset your stomach or weaken your LES. It also helps wash away bacteria that can lead to bad breath. Be sure to choose still water instead of sparkling, as carbonation can increase heartburn symptoms in some people.
Several types of over-the-counter and prescription-strength medications can treat GERD, including:
- histamine blockers (H2 blockers)
- proton pump inhibitors
- antacids, such as calcium carbonate (TUMS) or aluminum and magnesium hydroxide (Mylanta)
Some chewable antacids include breath-freshening ingredients and will relieve both symptoms at once.
Other GERD medications and drugs can lead to dry mouth. Dry mouth occurs when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. This can be uncomfortable, and it can also cause bad breath. Ask your doctor about solutions for dry mouth and the potential side effects of all drugs you take.
Bad breath is a symptom associated with GERD. In many cases, it’s easily remedied. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes and medications that can minimize your acid reflux and the resulting bad breath.