Bad breath is something no one's comfortable talking about. Yet it is a serious condition that can play havoc with lives. Bad breath causes others to shy away from you. In a work situation, it can seriously impact chances for professional advancement.
Somewhere between 14 to 25 percent of all Americans suffer from chronic bad breath associated with an underlying pathological condition. Most frequently, that condition is linked to poor oral hygiene and the bad breath culprits are sulfur-producing bacteria that live on the teeth, gums and the ridges of the tongue. Sometimes the condition is associated with other parts of the nasopharyngeal area such as the tonsils. One source of persistent bad breath that is frequently overlooked is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The Esophagus and Bad BreathThe esophagus is the tube through which food passes from your pharynx into your stomach. Generally, this is a one-way trip: Stomach contents are prevented from traveling upwards through the action of a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. At times, however, this sphincter relaxes and stomach contents escape back into the throat. This phenomenon is called esophageal reflux. When it happens persistently, it's called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
GERD has many symptoms, among them heartburn, regurgitation and trouble swallowing. One of GERD's most frequently overlooked symptoms is chronic bad breath. This halitosis is secondary to the sour-tasting reflux that bathes the back of the throat.
Brushing your teeth after every meal, flossing regularly and other oral hygiene measures will have little to no effect on this source of bad breath. Commercial mouthwashes and breath mints may mask the sour smell temporarily, but they won't relieve it; indeed, they may actually exacerbate it because many mouthwashes and breath mints contain peppermint which is known to have a relaxing effect on the lower esophageal sphincter.
Eliminating Bad Breath That Originates In the EsophagusThere are measures you can take that will relieve the bad breath that results from GERD. They're aimed primarily at relieving GERD itself.
- Speak with your physician. GERD is a condition that is associated with certain diseases. Make sure your GERD symptoms don't have a more serious, underlying cause.
- Review any medications you may be taking currently with your physician. Theophylline, albuterol and calcium channel blockers are all known to decrease the pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, leading to an increase in reflux.
- Eliminate foods that may be exacerbating your condition. Many people, without realizing it, suffer from some degree of lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar that is found in milk and milk products. If you can't digest it thoroughly, it remains in your stomach and sours the same way it would if you left an unrefrigerated carton of milk out on a kitchen counter. Other foods that are associated with GERD include chili peppers, onions, garlic, chocolate, tomatoes, citrus, peppermint, coffee and cola beverages.
- Avoid anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. The chemicals in these medications can also decrease the pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter.
- Eat smaller meals. You may need to switch from three large meals a day to five smaller meals per day. The less food you eat at one time, the less acid your stomach will produce.
- Avoid eating for at least three hours before you go to bed. When you do lie down to sleep, make gravity work for you by elevating the head of your bed a few inches.