Written By: Lana Adler
Updated March 12, 2021
No one wants to have bad breath, but it is common. The plethora of product advertisements promising to provide fresh breath demonstrate how much people are willing to pay to avoid this issue.
Bad breath, also called halitosis, can negatively impact a person's social life and even potentially contribute to anxiety (1) and depression (2). While more research on the relationship between breath and mental health is needed, it is an important consideration.
Morning breath, or the smell of your breath as soon as you wake up, tends to be especially problematic. We’ll cover what causes morning breath and how to get rid of it.
You might wonder why your breath stinks when you wake up. Research shows that morning breath likely smells worse because it contains more volatile sulfur compounds (3) than breath at other times of the day. Experts are still learning what affects volatile sulfur compound levels and why they vary throughout the day.
One way to banish morning breath is simple: eating breakfast. In one study, eating breakfast (4) led to a decrease in volatile sulfur compounds measured throughout the day. In fact, eating breakfast was even more effective at reducing the compounds behind bad breath than cleaning with a toothbrush.
Another study found that fasting, or restricting eating to only 25% of the normal amount for a day, doubled the number of people experiencing bad breath (5). These signs suggest that eating healthy meals at regular times — especially breakfast — can keep bad breath at bay.
Drink More Water
In lieu of, or in addition to, eating breakfast, drinking a large glass of water can help reduce your morning breath. Scientific research shows that drinking a glass of water reduces some bad-breath-causing compounds by 30% to 60% (6).
Brush Your Teeth
Brushing your teeth as part of your bedtime routine in order to prevent morning breath might seem obvious. Indeed, science shows that toothbrushing works. When people stop brushing their teeth (7), even temporarily, their morning breath and volatile sulfur compounds increase. Toothbrushing likely works by removing organisms that would otherwise create a film on the tongue and insides of the cheeks.
Try a Special Toothpaste
When it comes to fighting morning breath, certain types of toothpaste seem to be especially good at getting the job done. Brushing with a toothpaste containing strontium (8), an element present in some toothpastes for sensitive teeth, successfully reduces morning breath. Brushing at night with toothpaste containing zinc (9) also reduces morning breath the next morning. The addition of an extract from the leaves of the Sasa senanensis Rehder (10) can make toothpaste even better at fighting halitosis.
If you don't have time to seek out a toothpaste with special ingredients, it may be easier to find a flavored one. Brushing your teeth with flavored toothpaste has been shown to prevent bad breath better than brushing with non-flavored toothpaste (11).
Rinse with Mouthwash or Water
Another factor that determines whether or not you have bad breath is the pH balance of your mouth (12). A lower, or more acidic, pH tends to be associated with worse breath, while a higher, or more alkaline, pH tends to be associated with better breath. Mouthwashes containing triclosan or essential oils have been shown to increase the mouth's pH, which helps freshen breath.
Using mouthwash in the morning, even when you don't brush your teeth, reduces bad breath (13). Certain mouthwashes, such as those containing chlorhexidine or zinc lactate (14), are especially effective. If you don't have mouthwash on hand, however, rinsing with water alone in the morning can reduce your bad breath.
Scrape Your Tongue
Although brushing your teeth and rinsing with mouthwash can reduce bad breath, scraping your tongue (15) may be the most effective oral hygiene move. Tongue scraping can be done with a special tongue-scraping tool or with a toothbrush. This helps remove a film in which bacteria grow and produce volatile sulfur compounds.
Even though tongue scraping effectively reduces morning breath, you'll get the best result if you also brush your teeth and use mouthwash (16). In combination, morning tongue scraping and mouth rinsing (17) can ward off bad breath for hours.
Eliminate Underlying Causes
If you have no other symptoms, you probably don't need to worry about your bad breath indicating a larger issue. In some people, however, halitosis is the result of an underlying medical problem. If you notice your morning breath continues throughout the day despite you eating breakfast, drinking water, and practicing good oral hygiene, consider talking to a dentist or doctor.
Underlying health issues might be the cause of bad breath in up to 15% of people (18) experiencing halitosis. Bad breath is a symptom of cavities, an H. Pylori stomach infection, a gastrointestinal ulcer (19), and COVID-19 (20), among other illnesses.
Practice Healthy Habits
Even if your morning breath isn't related to a medical issue, practicing healthy habits can help you deal with it. Many unhealthy habits (21) are potential causes of bad breath, such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, doing certain drugs, and having a poor diet. Your alcohol intake and other habits also impact your sleep quality, providing a second incentive to pursue healthier habits.
Improve Your Morning Breath
Making certain lifestyle and oral hygiene changes can help improve your morning breath and boost your confidence throughout the day.
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