Glands in the nose and throat continually produce mucus that plays an integral role in health. Mucus moistens and cleans the nasal membranes, moistens airways, traps and clears inhaled foreign matter, and fights infection. Under normal circumstances, mucus from the nose mixes with saliva and drips down the back of the throat, swallowed gradually and continuously without any issue. Postnasal drip is the accumulation of thickened mucus in the back of the throat. The Eustachian tube, nasal passages, and various nerves intimately intertwine these systems, so when a bacteria or virus infects one area, this easily spreads to other areas. When people suffer from postnasal drip, several oral health symptoms can occur. Postnasal drip frequently causes a sore, irritated throat and can even cause swelling in the tonsils and other tissues in the throat, even when no infection is present. Excess mucus leaking into the back of the throat can exacerbate bad breath (halitosis) because it contributes to mouth debris that cause anaerobic bacteria to thrive.
Postnasal Drip Causes
- Congested sinuses swell in response to viruses or bacterial infections that invade healthy tissues, producing an inflammatory response. This can occur as a result of a simple cold, respiratory flu, or sinusitis.
- Throat muscle and swallowing disorders, age, blockages, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can prevent proper mucus absorption, thereby causing excessive thickened mucus in the back of the throat.
- A nagging cough expels more mucus into the upper throat and mouth, thereby exacerbating postnasal drip.
- Increased thick secretions often occur in winter due to heat-related dryness.
- Allergies, especially to foods such as dairy products can cause thickened secretions.
- Fumes from chemicals, perfumes, cleaning products, tobacco, or other irritants can aggravate the sinuses and lead to postnasal drip.
The Role of Anaerobic Bacteria
When airways are constricted, people resort to breathing through their mouths unless they take decongestants or use nasal sprays. A dry, protein-rich, stagnant environment without adequate saliva inhibits the production of oxygenating molecules, enabling bacteria to abundantly reproduce. Anaerobic bacteria are responsible for bad breath because they produce volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that smell like rotten eggs. These compounds are excreted after bacteria consume and digest oral debris like food particles and mucus. The presence of vast amounts of VSCs leads to chronic halitosis and dry mouth (xerostomia).
Postnasal Drip Symptoms
- Overflow secretions can spill into the voice box (larynx) and breathing passages (trachea and bronchi), causing hoarseness, throat clearing, or coughing
- The sensation of a lump in the back of the throat
- A runny nose and/or congestion
- Sore throat
- Tonsil stone formation (if tonsils are still present)
- Nausea and fatigue
- Severe bad breath
- Dry mouth
Postnasal Drip Treatment
For postnasal drip caused by bacterial infections, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. However, colds are viral in nature and do not respond to antibiotics. Decongestants and antihistamines can reduce nasal passage swelling due to allergies or sinusitis, enabling patients to breathe through their noses. However, the ingredients in cold medications tend to dry up the oral and nasal tissues, resulting in chronic dry mouth. Moreover, these over-the-counter medications do nothing to prevent anaerobic bacteria from thriving in a mouth that remains dry and lacking in the bacteria-killing oxygen provided by sufficient amounts of saliva.
- Short-term use of oral and injectable steroids may be helpful, however, due to significant side effects, steroids must be carefully monitored if used for more than one week.
- Mucus-thinning medication such as guaifenesin (Mucinex) can help.
- Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays or nasal irrigation products can help flush out excess mucus, bacteria, allergens, and other irritating substances from the sinuses
- A vaporizer or humidifier will increase the moisture in the air
Postnasal drip itself can be effectively treated with the above methods. However, it is necessary to maintain excellent oral hygiene practices and keep the mouth as hydrated as possible to alleviate bad breath and dry mouth. That means brushing twice a day, flossing, and gargling with alcohol-free mouthwash made with natural oxygenating ingredients.
Effective Relief for Postnasal Drip-Related Oral Health Symptoms
TheraBreath offers a variety of products that can reduce bad breath odor caused by dry mouth and postnasal drip. Based on extensive research he conducted regarding the link between postnasal drip and xerostomia and halitosis, Dr. Katz invented several products that are effective in treating these problems.
TheraBreath PLUS Nasal-Sinus Drops provide a sinus-cleansing formula that effectively eliminates VSC-producing bacteria often concealed in hard to reach sinus passages.
AktivOxigen Serum is a highly concentrated, unflavored, oxygenating serum that can easily be mixed with water or fruit juice to produce a powerful, antibacterial oral rinse solution. This is highly effective at minimizing bad breath and relieving dry mouth.
TheraBreath Fresh Breath Throat Spray has a patented 6.9 centimeter nozzle capable of reaching the farthest anterior areas of the throat. The "extinguisher" spray combats the hard-to-reach areas where postnasal drip tends to accumulate.
TheraBreath also offers oxygenating toothpastes that stimulate saliva flow and produce a hydrated, oxygen-rich oral environment in which anaerobic bacteria cannot survive. The powerful oxidizing agent in the products rapidly destroy anaerobic bacteria along with the volatile sulfur compounds they exude. Bad breath and dry mouth caused by postnasal drip are no match for the superior, bacteria-fighting compounds found in all TheraBreath products.