Acid Reflux And Bad Breath: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment Options

acid reflux and bad breath

In this article, we’ll discuss how acid reflux can lead to bad breath, how to identify it, its causes, and possible remedies.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common medical condition characterized by pain in the lower chest. The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular muscle that joins the esophagus and the stomach. This muscle is responsible for tightening the esophagus after the food goes into the stomach. If this muscle is weak or does not tighten properly, the acid from the stomach can go back into the esophagus and this is known as acid reflux.

Although it is a common condition, acid reflux can develop to become chronic. It is at this stage when doctors will intervene medically in order to manage the disease.

Can Acid Reflux Give You Bad Breath?

One of the most common symptoms of acid reflux apart from heartburn is bad breath. The stomach contents that regurgitate back to the esophagus may also include stomach acids, bile, and undigested food that will linger in the esophagus and creep up the pharynx. This, in turn, causes bad breath.

When acid is dripping or lingering on the walls of the esophagus, it can be smelled by other people because these gas particles can also attach themselves to the tongue. Thereby, aggravating bad smell. Burping intensifies the smell of stomach acid. It is possible that bad breath caused by acid reflux can be smelled by the patient.

There have been instances where patients complain of being able to smell their own breath even without having opened their mouths. The smell of bile passes from the stomach up to the nose, which causes an acidic and pungent smell.

Acid reflux smells similar to bile. A smell that is strong, pungent, sulphuric, and acidic can be characterized as an acid reflux smell. However, it is possible that patients report smells of different nature based on the medication they are taking for treatment.

Tips To Identify The Reason Behind Bad Breath

Typically, bad breath can be managed by brushing teeth, using mouthwash and flossing. Yet, there are more persistent cases of bad breath that have got nothing to do with the mouth.

Following are the signs that indicate bad breath is being caused by acid reflux:

1. It is food-related

Be it eating too much or too little, spicy or sour food, when bad breath is triggered by an eating pattern, it may be caused due to gastrointestinal problems. For instance, if a patient observes that bad breath comes from drinking coffee, it is possible that the acid in the coffee is triggering stomach acid which leads to bad reflux. It is essential to test your breath after eating certain foods to check if bad breath is triggered by specific eating habits.

2. It coincides with other digestive symptoms

Symptoms such as constipation, bloating, burping and pain can be signs of acid reflux. When digestive symptoms come right after a feeding pattern along with bad breath, it is likely that bad breath is caused due to acid reflux. For example, after drinking coffee it is important to check if you have cramps in your lower abdomen, or if you are burping and have a strong metallic taste in your mouth. An effective way of ruling out bad breath is to pay attention to your body’s physical reaction to food.

3. Your breath smells sour or acidic

Bile is described as sourness accompanied by a burning sensation. A distinct sign of acid reflux and indigestion is when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus in the form of bile. 

4. Worsens with caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco

The ingredients present in caffeinated and alcoholic products are known to weaken the gastrointestinal sphincter which leads to regurgitation of stomach contents from the stomach back to the esophagus. In addition, foods such as chocolate, fatty and acidic foods, mint, onions, and garlic may also cause the same reaction.

5. Discomfort in the throat

If a bad smell is accompanied by a burning sensation in the throat it is likely due to digestive problems. Clear signs of acid reflux include scratchy, itchy or tingly sensations in the throat after burping.

6. Your tonsils are affected

Inflammation around the throat along with acid erosion on the teeth are clear signs of acid reflux. In fact, the tooth enamel begins to decay because of frequent incidents of stomach acid reaching the mouth.

Other Causes

Acid reflux itself isn’t the reason behind bad breath. There are two ways this situation could aggravate the smelly symptoms, and cause longer episodes of foul oral breath:

1. Tooth decay

The stomach is lined with a protective barrier that keeps strong acids from burning the stomach when exposed.  However, prolonged exposure to strong acids in the body of other people that do not have a protective lining (due to the acids causing them to wear off) will lead to acid damage.

Acid wafting through the esophagus and to the mouth will cause teeth to erode and rot over time. This build-up of decaying matter around the teeth contributes to bad breath, especially after the teeth rot. It is very important to maintain proper oral hygiene in order to prevent the accumulation of bacteria or plaque in and around the teeth.

2. Bacteria in the mouth and throat

Acid reflux causes a backward flow of particles from the stomach to the esophagus which in turn leads to bad breath. Irritation, itchiness, and a tingling sensation are signs of bacteria present in the throat. If left untreated, the bacteria can grow on the walls of the esophagus which leads to bad breath.

Home Remedies for Acid Reflux Breath

  • Good oral hygiene
  • Pineapple juice
  • Increased water intake
  • Healthy yogurt promotes good bacteria growth
  • Milk counteracts bad breath
  • A slice of orange or lemon after meals
  • Products with zinc keep bad breath in control
  • Green tea
  • Homemade mouthwash with vinegar and baking soda

The best way to treat bad breath caused by acid reflux is to treat acid reflux itself. This includes lifestyle changes such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Smoking cessation
  • Alcohol cessation
  • Reduction in fatty and acidic food consumption
  • Avoid eating close to bedtime
  • Avoid lying down immediately after meals

Medical Treatment

  • Patients with hiatal hernia are known to experience acid reflux. This occurs when the upper part of the stomach bulges and moves above the diaphragm.
  • Pregnant women commonly experience acid reflux during pregnancy. Symptoms worsen over the course of the third trimester but go away after delivery.
  • Taking medication such as ibuprofen, muscle relaxers such as Baclofen, and blood pressure regulators.
  • One can also be prescribed with Rebeprazole (Aciphex), Pantoprazole (Protonix), Omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid) or Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant).

Know you are aware of how to find out the reason behind your bad breath, how bad breath and acid reflux are related, and a number of natural and medicinal treatment options for bad breath due to Acid reflux.