While coffee is a tasty way to start the morning, it has the potential to cause bad breath. And with Reuters reporting that Starbucks is looking to expand its bagged-coffee presence in supermarkets nationwide, coffee breath may soon be an even more pervasive problem.
The unfortunate aspect of coffee is that while it prevents sleepiness and temporarily boosts alertness, rarely do coffee drinkers seem fully aware of their breath. This is because coffee breath does not immediately set in upon drinking the beverage. Initially, the mouth will smell like fresh coffee, arguably not a bad smell. It takes several hours for the mouth to begin developing the stale funk that the nose associates with coffee breath.
Coffee is largely acidic, unless specifically leached out and sold as low-acid beans. Among others, coffee contains chlorogenic, quinic, acetic and citric acids, according to the Coffee Research Institute. When ingested, these acids leave an oral environment primed for bacterial growth.
Saliva, by contrast, is basic. Having a dry mouth is one of the prime reasons for bad breath, since the bases in saliva naturally neutralize odor-causing bacteria. Coffee essentially accomplishes the opposite, flooding the mouth with sticky, acidic compounds that encourage bacteria to multiply and exude aromatic compounds.
Acids are not the only coffee-related agent of halitosis, however. As a diuretic - or substance that encourages urination and the expulsion of water from the body - coffee naturally dries the mouth. Once dry, the tongue and palate act like a Petri dish for bacteria to form. Those that cause bad breath give off hydrogen sulfide, a compound that smells like rotten eggs when isolated. So, not only do the acids in coffee simulate dry mouth, but the drink itself actually does dry the mouth to boot.
Condiments added to the morning brew contribute to coffee breath in their own ways. Cream or milk leaves a lactic residue in the throat the quickly sours and smells much like milk breath. Sugar contributes to tooth decay and gingivitis, both of which can foul breath. Even artificial sweeteners contain carbohydrate chains that may be consumed by oral bacteria and turned into compounds like putrescine and skatole, whose odors the nose associates with rotting meat and feces, respectively.
And that’s from normal coffee. Consider how much skatole might result from the world’s most expensive coffee beans, which the Times of India reports must first pass through the digestive tract of small felines called civets before being washed and ground up.
To truly eliminate coffee breath, consider brushing the teeth twice daily, as well as gargling specialty breath fresheners in order to neutralize odor compounds.