Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a medical condition marked by burning indigestion, reflux (regurgitation) of stomach contents, 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 GERD, but also by making a few lifestyle changes.
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 (like a thick rubber band) 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 a bitter or sour taste in your mouth and bad breath.
Lifestyle Changes to Treat GERD
Lifestyle changes can help prevent reflux, which can help your breath stay fresh. Most importantly, quit smoking if you’re currently a smoker. Smoking 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 at least two to three hours to lie down after you eat.
- Putting a 6-inch board under the head of your bed to raise your torso and reduce pressure on your LES. An alternative is to use an extra pillow or two.
- 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 reflux.
Diet Modifications to Treat GERD
Modifying the way you eat and the types of foods you eat can help GERD symptoms and bad breath. Many of the foods that aggravate acid reflux also cause bad breath.
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 halitosis. Fiber helps the digestive movement (peristalsis) 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 is linked to being overweight, so consult your doctor about losing weight 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 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.
Drug Therapies to Treat GERD
Several types of over-the-counter and prescription-strength medications treat GERD, including:
- histamine blockers (H2 blockers)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- 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 aren’t producing enough saliva. This can be uncomfortable, and it can also cause bad breath. Ask your doctor about solutions for dry mouth and potential side effects of all drugs.
Bad breath is an unfortunate 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 bad breath.