Why Do We Have Morning Breath?
Ever wonder why your breath reeks after a night of sleep? Learn the common causes of halitosis and how you can best combat that sour morning mouth.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Does this sound familiar? You wake up in the morning and quickly cover your mouth with your hand so your partner doesn’t get a whiff of your bad breath. Morning breath, halitosis — whatever you call it, it can be unpleasant and it probably isn't the way you want to greet your partner, or the day.
“Everyone has morning breath to some degree,” says Sally J. Cram, DDS, a periodontist in the Washington, D.C., area and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. Here’s the simple reason why: When you sleep, your mouth dries out. When your mouth dries out, odor-producing bacteria proliferate. “When you sleep, your normal flow of decreases,” Dr. Cram explains. “That’s why your breath can be worse in the morning.”
If you snore or breathe through your mouth at night, you’re more likely to have bad breath in the morning than those who don’t, she adds. In both situations, your mouth is even more prone to drying out, setting the stage for bacteria to grow.
Other Causes of Bad Breath
Some medications can cause your mouth to become dry overnight, worsening your halitosis. That’s why older people, who are often on many medications, frequently find their breath more unpleasant in the morning.
Smokers also may find they have bad morning breath. Smoking not only causes your saliva — your natural mouth rinse — to dry up but also can raise the temperature of your mouth, making it a breeding ground for that dreaded bacteria that causes bad breath. Add this to your list of reasons to quit smoking.
Allergies, too, can lead to bad breath. The mucus that drips down the back of your throat becomes a food source for bacteria. Should your postnasal drip become infected, it can put more odor-causing bacteria in your mouth.
How to Treat Bad Breath
If you’re one of the 65 percent of Americans with halitosis, there’s good news: Bad breath is treatable.
Brush.Odor-causing bacteria accumulate between your teeth and on your tongue, so practicing good dental hygiene will do a lot to improve your morning breath.
When you brush, be sure to do so for at least two minutes, not the 35 or 40 seconds that many people do.
After you brush, go directly to bed! “Don’t eat or drink anything so you’re not leaving food in your mouth,” Cram says.
Also, when you brush your teeth, brush your tongue too. Another favorite repository for odor-causing bacteria is the back of your tongue. You’ll notice your breath is fresher in the morning if you brush your tongue before you go to bed.
“Eighty-five percent of bad breath comes from the tongue,” says New York dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS, the president and founder of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. “It really helps tremendously to use a tongue cleanser before you go to sleep, or anytime during the day.”
Floss.Brushing alone won’t remove the food particles that can become stuck between your teeth and gums. “Flossing is as important as brushing," says Kimberly Harms, DDS, a dentist in Farmington, Minn., and a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.
Rinse.Mouthwash will get rid of the odor but only temporarily. Cram suggests that when you are buying mouthwash to kill the germs that can cause bad breath, you look for one that has a seal of approval from the American Dental Association.
A quick swish won’t do it. If the directions say rinse for 30 seconds, then rinse for 30 seconds. “The mouth rinse has to be in there long enough to kill the bacteria,” Dr. Harms advises. “Rinse for five to ten seconds, you’re not getting the full effect.
Video: Why Does Your Breath Stink in the Morning?
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