Acid reflux is a medical condition full of burning indigestion, chronic cough, and chest pain. If that’s not bad enough, you’re also likely to experience bad breath as a result of your symptoms. Bad breath (halitosis) can be controlled not only by managing your gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but also by making a few lifestyle changes, too.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach contents such as undigested food, regurgitated bile, and stomach acids into your esophagus. The primary cause of acid reflux in most people is a faulty or weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a valve-like muscle that forms a barrier between your esophagus and your stomach.
When the LES is strong, it opens when you swallow so that food can enter the stomach and then it closes tightly. A weak LES remains open, allowing acids to flow back into your throat. The regurgitation of stomach contents can cause you to have a bitter or sour taste in your mouth and bad breath.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent reflux, which in turn may help your breath stay fresher. Quit smoking if you’re currently a smoker. Smoking also causes bad breath and nicotine products cause your LES to relax, allowing acids to reflux into your esophagus.
Other adjustments to counter GERD symptoms include:
- waiting two to three hours after eating before lying down
- putting a 6-inch board under the head of your bed to reduce pressure on your LES
- eating small meals throughout the day rather than three large meals
- wearing loose-fitting clothing to take pressure off your stomach
- chewing gum to both freshen breath and decrease the amount of reflux you experience
Modifying the way you eat along with which foods you eat can help GERD symptoms and bad breath. Many of the foods that aggravate acid reflux are also breath-killers.
Avoiding these items can kill two birds with one stone:
- coffee (decaf and caffeinated)
Other foods that those with GERD should avoid are:
- citrus fruits and juices
- tomato products
- fried or fatty foods
The Mayo Clinic suggests eating foods that are rich in fiber to fight halitosis. Beans, whole grains (like rice, pasta, and bread), and a wide variety of non-acidic fruits and vegetables are high in fiber.
Fibrous foods also keep you feeling full for a longer period of time and may help maintain your weight. GERD is linked to being overweight, so consult your doctor about dropping a few pounds if necessary to relieve acid reflux and heartburn.
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 provides the added benefit of washing away bacteria that can lead to bad breath. Be sure to choose still water instead of sparkling, as carbonation can increase heartburn symptoms.
Several types of over-the-counter and prescription-strength medications treat GERD, including:
- histamine blockers (H2 blockers)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
Some chewable antacids include a breath-freshening agent and will relieve both symptoms at once. However, some GERD medications and other drugs can lead to dry mouth.
Dry mouth is a reduction of saliva, which can cause you discomfort as well as bad breath. Ask your doctor about the potential side effects of each drug you take and solutions for dry mouth. For example, synthetic saliva is a relatively simple solution to moisten your mouth and eliminate halitosis.
Bad breath is an unfortunate symptom associated with GERD, but in many cases, it can be easily remedied. Follow your doctor’s instructions and take medications as directed to maximize your results and minimize your acid reflux.