Nothing can sour a morning kiss or happy hello like a whiff of stale morning breath. This common affliction has inspired dozens of nicknames, from dragon breath to hell-a-tosis.
While many conditions can cause bad breath at any time of day or night, morning breath results from a decrease in saliva production while we sleep. Nighttime dry mouth creates a ripe environment for bacteria to grow. And a mouthful of bacteria equals stinky breath. Read on to learn why dry mouth is so prevalent at night, and discover how to wake up with fresher breath.
What Causes Morning Breath?
Dry mouth is the number one cause of morning breath. You’re probably familiar with the pasty or stale feeling that comes when your mouth is short on saliva or other fluids. When you’re awake, it’s easy to keep your whistle wet with regular gulps of water and other hydrating beverages that swish away food particles and bacteria that settle on your teeth, tongue, and gums. When you’re asleep, however, bacteria have long, undisturbed hours to grow and gain a sour smell.
It’s natural for our bodies to slow down on saliva production while we sleep, but a few situations can steal away even more moisture during the night, with malodorous results.
While dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep, research suggests sleeping with your mouth open can steal even more moisture away, which in turn intensifies morning breath.
Whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, sleep apnea, a disorder where your breathing is interrupted or restricted while you sleep, can cause you to snore, clench your jaw, and gasp for breath. Plus, it can dry out the mouth and contribute to worse morning breath. In fact, one of the telltale signs of sleep apnea (for people who may not know what’s going on while they sleep) is stinky morning breath.
While liquids generally help keep the mouth refreshed, happy hour beverages dehydrate the body and dry out the mouth. Have you ever noticed that you pee more when you drink? Alcohol suppresses vasopressin, the hormone that signals the kidneys to hold on to water. That means alcohol has a diuretic effect, or it takes more liquid out of your body than it puts in. (Coffee does the same thing.)
Even though food particles hiding in your mouth are a virile breeding ground for bacteria, eating promotes salivation, and saliva helps prevent dry mouth. In a 2015 study, teens who skipped breakfast were twice as likely to have bad breath as their breakfast noshing peers.
More than 400 medications can inhibit the amount of saliva you produce, including drugs for high blood pressure, depression, and bladder control.
How to Vanquish Morning Breath
While morning breath is as common as oversleeping your alarm clock, here are several things you can do to help tame the sleeping dragon.
Make regular water consumption a habit while you’re awake and keep water next to your bed for a last-minute boost of hydration. Even one last gulp of water before you turn out the light can swish away bacteria. Likewise, reaching for a refreshing drink before you get out of bed will wash away some of the sourness of morning breath.
Improve your dental hygiene
Food particles hiding in your mouth are a prime breeding spot for smelly bacteria. When bacteria eat proteins in the mouth, they produce sulfur gases, which are the real cause of bad breath. Do a thorough job of brushing and flossing before bed to reduce bacteria buildup and keep your teeth and gums healthier. Also, scrape your tongue. And consider using a toothpaste and mouthwash with zinc ions to help eliminate smelly sulfur gases.
If you suffer from a stuffy nose (which can lead to mouth breathing while you sleep), take measures to help relieve the underlying causes. A sterile nasal rinse or a shower at night may help. But if you suspect sleep apnea may be the cause of your uneasy breathing, consult your doctor. In addition to bad breath, symptoms of sleep apnea include morning headaches, sore throat, and excessive sleepiness during the day.
Become a picky eater
Consider avoiding or limiting certain foods, especially before bed. Onions and garlic can cause stinky breath, even after brushing. That’s because the sulfur compounds in onions and garlic are absorbed into the bloodstream and expelled through your breath. Alcoholic beverages, apart from their dehydrating affects, can also give you sour breath.
Since morning breath stems from nighttime dry mouth, regular hydration will go a long way to taming dragon breath. Likewise, watch for other situations that cause dry mouth, from congestion to sleep apnea and medication side effects. And for the freshest breath any time of day, brush and floss to keep your mouth healthy, limit foods with sulfur compounds (such as garlic and onions), and look for dental products that contain activated zinc ions.