Why does morning breath happen?


How to Get Rid of Bad Breath in the Morning

Take a breath of fresh air—without sending your bedmate running—with these top tips.

It might just be sleep’s most unfortunate side effect: morning breath. The big reason? A drop in saliva production while you snooze gives bacteria an open invitation to hang out and grow, producing what are called volatile sulfur compounds or VSC’s (a.k.a. the stench). While some level of less-than-freshness is inevitable after a good night’s rest, follow this advice to keep your breath from scaring away your partner.

Consider Your Sleep Style.

Saliva production naturally slows when you sleep. But if you snore or sleep with your mouth open, your mouth gets even drier. And the drier your mouth, the less it’s able to fight off smelly bacteria. Back sleepers are more likely to snore, so working to find a better sleep position might help you fend off morning breath.

Boost Your Brushing Habits.

The more bacteria-breeding bits of food that you can clear from your mouth after meals—and especially before bed—the less there will be to grow smelly germs in your mouth while you sleep, causing you to wake up with dragon breath. Hopefully brushing is already ingrained in your bedtime routine, but it’s not enough. Flossing also helps to remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth that would otherwise breed bacteria overnight. Another spot to zero in on: your tongue. Give it a brush, too, with a soft toothbrush or plastic scraper that’s made specifically for the tongue (look in the tooth care aisle at your grocery or pharmacy). An antibacterial mouthwash can also kill bacteria—and tame bad breath.

Look at Your Diet.
Smelly foods like garlic and onions may get a lot of flack for causing smelly breath, but the truth is, any food can cause an unpleasant odor when particles linger in your mouth. Another unexpected food-related cause: Infrequent eating due to dieting can fuel bad breath, possibly because eating triggers the release of bacteria-sweeping saliva.

Check Your Drink.

While you don’t want to chug too much water before bed, staying hydrated may help to stave off stinky breath by keeping your mouth moist enough to wash away leftover food and bacteria. Meanwhile, coffee and alcohol can encourage bacteria growth, which makes breath worse. (Alcohol and coffee late in the day can also interfere with your sleep.)

Talk to Your Doctor.

While about 80 percent of bad breath is caused by something in your mouth, there are medical conditions that can be to blame, too. For example, acid reflux, a runny nose, or any condition that causes dry mouth could exacerbate the problem. Diabetes, liver disease, head colds, and bronchitis can all cause bad breath, too. The right treatment could help your condition—and your breath. If the above tips don’t help, ask your physician if there may be an underlying medical cause.

Morning Breath: Prevention, Treatment, & Tips

The phone alarm sounds each morning waking you from a restful night’s slumber. You rub the sleep from your eyes and prepare to tackle the day. Then you recognize it. That all too familiar taste accompanied by what feels like a film-caked tongue. And you can practically smell the lingering odor emanating from your mouth. Yep, you have morning breath. It’s embarrassing but nothing to be ashamed of; everyone’s been there before. Here are some prevention and treatment methods if your mouth wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.


Bad breath, also referred to as halitosis, typically originates in the mouth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Morning breath is simply one form of bad breath. Overnight, food particles gather between teeth, on the tongue’s surface, and along the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth. Mouth bacteria break down those particles. The end result is a collection of foul-smelling chemicals.

Common Causes of Morning Breath

Dry mouth is one of the biggest culprits to blame for morning breath, according to Everyday Health. Saliva rids the mouth of bacteria that acts as the trigger for morning breath, and the production of saliva greatly decreases when people sleep so the mouth becomes a feeding ground for bacteria. Other common causes include smoking, a poor diet, oral conditions such as gum disease, and even some medications, notes the ADA.

Prevention and Treatment

Bad breath, whether it occurs in the morning or throughout the day, doesn’t have to be a way of life. Try these tips and watch your breath improve.

  • Butt out: Giving up tobacco for good provides a host of health improvements besides keeping your mouth from smelling like an ash tray in the morning.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink water before going to sleep at night. And keep a bottle on your nightstand for if you wake up thirsty.
  • You are what you eat: Avoid eating foods like garlic and onions at night. The same goes for coffee. Trade in that cup of decaf for 8 ounces of water.

If you do find your mouth feeling a bit on the stinky side, brushing your teeth should be the first line of defense. But for those times when you might not have your brush handy, you can use these handy breath fresheners:

  • Mouthwash: Rinsing with Colgate Total ® Mouthwash for Gum Health is an antiseptic mouthwash to keep your gums healthy while protecting against gingivitis, but it also guards against bad breath.
  • Tidy up your tongue: Give your tongue a quick cleaning by carrying a tongue scraper on you.
  • Nature’s best: Keep some natural solutions handy – such as parsley, mint leaves or fennel seeds – to chew when needed.

Morning breath is never pleasant to wake up with, but it doesn’t have to be a way of life. And that goes for your breath throughout the day. The key to fresh breath starts with focusing on the health of your mouth. That means brushing your teeth at least twice a day followed up with flossing to reach those places the brush doesn’t. Don’t forget to schedule cleanings with your dentist every six months. He or she can give you additional ideas on how to maintain fresh breath.

You roll over and whisper, “Good morning.” She recoils from the gust of rancid breath you’ve just unleashed across the pillow. Nothing ruins a sleepover like morning breath. And the problem is: Where does it come from? You brushed your teeth last night. You don’t have a gastric disease. Why does your breath smell like a tin of mackerel left open on a hot subway?

Read on for the six things you need to do to stop morning, and the fastest way to fix it.

Triage the night before.

Sure, you ran a toothbrush around your mouth for two seconds. But any single morsel of food left behind becomes bait for bacteria.

“Bacteria eat food particles left behind,” says NYC-based cosmetic dentist Dr. Brian Kantor of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor, “and fuel bad breath by releasing volatile sulfur compounds through anaerobic respiration.”

Translation: bacteria eat your leftovers and belch out the rotten-egg stench you wake up to.

So if you’ve got an important morning ahead, be thorough: floss, brush and use an antiseptic rinse. Leave no crumb behind.

Stop your mouth breathing.

The most critical thing to know about morning breath: saliva is your friend.

“Saliva is high oxygen, which kills bacteria,” says Kantor. “It breaks down food particles and debris, and removes them from your mouth when you swallow.”

Trouble is, saliva production decreases while you sleep. And if you’re breathing through your mouth, you’re creating a dry zone where bacteria thrive.

The fix could be as simple as turning onto your side or stomach. Or maybe you need a decongestant. However you fix it, a closed mouth will be less sour the next morning.

Avoid alcohol.

If a dry mouth is bad, then mouthwash is your friend. But not the kind that can accidentally set you back.

“Moisten your mouth,” says Kantor. “Use a lot of water. And use a non-alcoholic mouthwash the night before because alcohol will dry out your mouth—and that’s the last thing you want.”

Look for the alcohol-free version of whatever mouthwash you use. And, while we’re at it, don’t try to cure your morning breath by rinsing with vodka, either.

Cut the acid.

Besides loving a dry mouth, bacteria enjoy an acidic place to feed and multiply.

“Bacteria are more likely to collect in acidic environments,” says Kantor. “So what you can do is gargle with baking soda, because it’s a base.”

You’ll find baking soda in many dental products, and all of them cut the acid and help stamp out the stench.

Brush your tongue.

You’re flossing, you’re brushing, but you’re still waking up smelling like a bull mastiff. Turn your attention to your tongue.

“The tongue has a lot of surfaces where food particles can get lodged,” says Kantor,” so you want to use a tongue scraper and really keep your tongue clean.”

Also, in the morning, taking your toothbrush to your tongue is a fast way to remedy whatever damage the night has done, or at least spread the minty smell of toothpaste around.

Start salivating.

Finally, when you’ve made it to daylight and you really want to kick that morning breath, hit it with the one-two punch: brushing, then brunch.

Brushing, flossing and rinsing clears out the root causes of your oral odor. Eating something starts your saliva flowing. Think of it like turning on the faucet to rinse out the drain.

“Every time you eat, you increase saliva,” says Kantor. “Crunchy fruits and vegetables are the best. They stimulate saliva flow and they mechanically clean teeth and remove surface stains.”

Translation: an apple a day might not keep the doctor away, but one in the morning could get you invited back for another sleepover.

Why Do I Wake Up with Morning Breath?

Waking up with morning breath isn’t a fun way to start your day. But it’s extremely common, and most people experience it at some point. Fortunately, it can be treated like all other causes of halitosis (bad breath).

What causes morning breath?

There are a number of different causes of morning breath, but the two biggest causes are dry mouth and bad oral hygiene.

Dry mouth

If you have good oral hygiene, dry mouth is most likely to blame. Saliva is responsible for removing the bacteria that can cause bad breath. When we sleep, saliva production decreases significantly. Certain medications can cause dry mouth, making morning breath even worse.

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is another common cause. Our mouths are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If you’re not brushing or flossing effectively, food particles can get stuck in crevices on the surface on the tongue, between the teeth, or along our gum tissue.

The bacteria in your mouth will break down those food particles, which releases the lovely bad breath come morning time.

Morning breath can be a symptom of periodontal disease, especially if poor oral hygiene goes unchecked. Periodontal disease affects the gums, causing infections in pockets beneath the teeth that can cause strong, persistent halitosis. Periodontal disease —which starts as gingivitis — will need to be treated by your dentist.

Eating certain foods

What you put into your body can result in morning breath. Eating strong-smelling foods in the evening like garlic or raw onions can cause morning breath the next day, even if you brush your teeth well.


Tobacco use — particularly smoking — is also directly linked to both morning breath and general halitosis. It can dry out your mouth and make you more prone to gum disease. Add the smoke smell on top, and it can be a recipe for potent breath.


People with gastrointestinal reflux (GERD) — also known as acid reflux — may experience bad breath due to stomach acid washing back up in their esophagus when they sleep at night.

How is morning breath treated?

In many cases, morning breath can be treated at home with a combination of better oral care and lifestyle changes.

Maintaining impeccable oral hygiene is both the best quick fix and long-term solution for bad breath of any kind. Brush your teeth immediately before you go to bed at night, and don’t eat or drink anything afterward. Doing so can introduce food particles that will be broken down over night. Floss your teeth and use an antiseptic mouthwash after using a tongue scraper.

If you wear a retainer or other orthodontic gear, clean it daily. Brush your teeth as soon as you’re awake to eliminate any remaining morning breath.

If you’re smoking or using tobacco, stop immediately.

Sugar-free gum may also be helpful, especially if you’re on the go and experiencing recurrent bad breath along with morning breath. Sugar-free gum doesn’t give the bacteria in your mouth sugar to thrive on. It can also help to stimulate the flow of saliva and freshen your breath simultaneously.

Your dentist will need to treat periodontal disease with deep cleanings. This will likely include a scaling and root planing procedure, where your dentist removes plaque and calculus from the teeth and gums. Depending on how advanced the infection is, surgery may be required.

For those experiencing bad breath as a result of GERD, your doctor can prescribe acid-reducing medication that you can take at night before you sleep. They also may recommend sleeping in a more upright position to reduce acid in the esophagus.

Preventing morning breath

Morning breath can be treated, but most people would prefer to avoid it altogether.

What you put in your body matters a great deal:

  • Drink lots of water, especially before you go to bed at night. This keeps you hydrated, preventing dry mouth and the resulting bad breath.
  • Avoid strong-smelling foods at night, like garlic or onion, and skip out on coffee (even decaf) once the afternoon is over. Ultimately, a healthy, well-balanced diet will help your overall health and can reduce morning breath.
  • Giving up tobacco can improve your breath instantly, day and night.

It’s imperative to practice good oral hygiene on a regular basis to both treat and prevent morning breath. Brush your teeth for two minutes before you go to bed before flossing and using an antiseptic mouth rinse to kill off any extra bacteria. You should also use a tongue scraper to keep your tongue clean.

If you’ve followed all the prevention methods and home treatments and nothing seems to work, make an appointment with your dentist. They can help you determine the cause of your morning breath and identify the best treatment options moving forward.

How to Stop Morning Breath

Morning breath is a surprisingly common complaint. It has been claimed that the vast majority of adults experience “socially unacceptable” bad breath on waking in the morning(1), though in most cases the odour disappears over time.

All the same, waking up with questionable breath is pleasant neither for you nor your partner. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or even get rid of morning breath.

What is Morning Breath?

In reality, even individuals with otherwise faultless breath may find themselves waking up to a dry mouth, furry tongue and an unpleasant odour.

Quite simply, morning breath is most commonly a result of large numbers of oral bacteria which, having been left unchecked overnight, have proliferated. In doing so, they have produced volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) which have a characteristically unpleasant smell(2).

Thus the cause of morning breath are these compounds being exhaled on the breath.

While the cause of morning breath sounds quite simple at first glance, it turns out that there is quite a bit more to this story than initially meets the eye.

After all, how do the bacteria get into your mouth, why are they worse at night, and what can we do to reduce their impact?

It’s fair to say that all of us have a culture of bacteria in our mouths. Very little can be done to entirely rid our mouths of such things. However, the number of bacteria can be kept under control, and fewer bacteria means less bad breath.

The problem is that many of the actions which help to control microbial load in our mouths decline or cease altogether while we are asleep.

Saliva production has been shown to be positively correlated with fresh breath, yet at night our salivary flow declines. Eating food can also stimulate saliva production, so unless you’re snacking at night then this too can have an impact.

While we’re awake, consuming drinks can flush away food particles that otherwise serve as fuel for bacteria.

However, possibly the most interesting impact of sleep on breath is that, through a combination of reduced salivary flow and beverage consumption, exfoliated oral epithelial cells remain in the mouth for longer.

This is most prevalent on the tongue, and serves as an ideal source of fuel for the bacteria that can cause bad breath. As the bacteria go about their work, breaking down these sloughed cells from the mouth, so VSCs are produced, leading to the all-too-familiar smell of “morning breath”.

Is Morning Breath “Natural”?

As should be clear by now, while long-term bad breath which lasts throughout the day may be a cause for concern, suggesting potential oral care issues, morning breath is a quite normal part of everyday for many people.

To quote another study: “a large proportion of individuals with oral malodour are periodontally healthy”.

It is interesting to mention a study of morning breath which confirmed that VSC levels tend to be highest first thing in the morning(3), but that morning breath can vary in severity over time. If you’ve recently discovered a problem, this doesn’t necessarily represent a major issue, assuming that good oral hygiene procedures and regular dental check-ups have been maintained.

How to Get Rid of Morning Breath

One of the problems with stopping morning breath is that many of the most obvious cures simply aren’t possible while we sleep. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can be employed by those concerned.

Use a Mouth Rinse

Many people think of mouthwashes as minty-flavoured liquids to gargle with.

However, while they might leave your mouth feeling fresh and zingy, the impact on morning breath can be minimal because many washes simply mask the problem temporarily with a minty flavour.

Good quality oral rinses are different and can be beneficial in the fight against morning breath. A critical element when assessing mouth rinses is to avoid any which contain alcohol (which is the vast majority, incidentally.) The reason is simple: alcohol can dry out your mouth while you sleep, worsening your morning breath.

Aim for a good quality mouth rinse that is free from alcohol such as UltraDEX Daily Oral Rinse and you could experience quite an improvement. Indeed, a study from Belgium(4) stated that “morning halitosis can be successfully reduced via daily use of mouth rinses”.

Scrub Your Tongue

Perhaps surprisingly, tests have found that the greatest number of sulphur-producing bacteria are typically found on the tongue(5), rather than anywhere else. So while many people proudly brush and floss each night, if bad breath is a concern then cleaning your tongue properly twice a day should be considered just as important.

Drink Water

If you happen to wake up at all during the night, consider keeping a glass of water by your bed. This way, when you stir you can help to lubricate your mouth by taking a few sips of water.

Breathe Through Your Nose

Just as using alcohol-containing mouth wash can dry out your mouth, and worsen morning breath, so too can breathing through your mouth. Heavy snorers can be particularly prone to morning breath.

If you can, try to sleep on your side or your front, rather than your back, where your mouth will be more likely to remain closed while you’re asleep.

Use Proper Oral Hygiene

It goes without saying that an effective oral hygiene routine will also help to keep the bacteria at bay. This means brushing and flossing interdentally at least twice a day, and for the prescribed period of time advised by your dentist. Never be tempted to skip your evening routine, no matter how tired you may feel, or your breath could be noticeably worse in the morning.

If All Else Fails

Lastly if you’ve tried all the advice above but are still concerned about your breath in the morning, consider keeping a fresh breath spray next to your bed. In this way you can quickly freshen up in advance of some snuggling, without having to get out of that cosy warm bed!

The unpleasantness of morning breath leads you to quickly cover your mouth when you pass your loved ones in the morning. You realize no amount of brushing, flossing, or mouthwash the night before seems to mask the overwhelming odor from your mouth when you wake up. Getting out of bed with bad breath, halitosis, in the morning is fairly common as our mouth goes into a “rest and digest” mode overnight.

Morning Breath And Saliva

Up to 80 million people, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, suffer from bad breath that is ever-present, while millions of Americans suffer from bad breath in limited situations such as in the morning or after eating pungent food. People who suffer from dry mouth often due to taking certain medications or mouth breathers are more prone to morning breath. Those with poor oral hygiene will also suffer from bad breath more readily than those with good oral hygiene, of course.

Bad breath in the morning is mostly attributed to a lack of saliva. “During the day, your mouth produces a significant amount of saliva, but while you sleep, saliva production goes down,” Dr. Hugh Flax, a cosmetic dentist and past president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry in Atlanta, Ga., told Medical Daily in an email.

Morning Breath And The Foul Smell

Saliva is critical for sweeping away the food particles that would otherwise linger and collect bacteria. A decrease in saliva production increases the likelihood of dry mouth. “ allows bacteria to grow and produce volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which is what smells bad,” Dr. Matthew Nejad and Dr. Kyle Stanley, dentists at Helm | Nejad | Stanley — Dentistry in Beverly Hills, Calif., told Medical Daily in an email. Bacteria munches on compounds, proteins, amino acids, and leftover foods that are stuck in your mouth and teeth to produce these VSCs, which causes the bad odor.

Morning Breath And How You Sleep

The way you sleep can also affect the intensity and frequency of morning breath. Snoring or breathing through the mouth at night can increase the likelihood of bad breath. Most mouth breathers sleep with their mouth open, causing their mouth to get dryer and therefore letting breath-causing bacteria flourish. Basically, “any time you reduce saliva in the mouth, you reduce the mouth’s ability to fight the bacteria that causes the bad breath,” Flax said.

Morning Breath And Your Health

While bad breath has nothing to do with age, the bacteria that causes bad breath may have several health implications. These implications are secondary to dental health complications. Typically, according to Nejad and Stanley, the first cause of bad breath is periodontal issues such as gingivitis and periodontitis, which have been proven to be involved with heart disease and stroke.

This suggests your oral health is strongly connected to other health conditions, also known as the mouth-body connection or the oral-systemic link. “The toxins from oral bacterial are released into your blood stream and can possibly inflict mayhem on other parts of your body,” Flax said. This has been linked to serious health risks including but not limited to cardiovascular disease, oral cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Morning Breath Prevention

Although there is no outright, foolproof prevention for morning breath, there are things you can do to reduce its affect. Brushing, flossing, and scraping your tongue before bed helps clean out the mouth and get rid of food particles so the bacteria have less “food” to munch on.

The Tongue Test

The first step to evaluating if you have bad breath is to see if you have it. Flax recommends doing a visual test by using a mirror to view the back of your tongue. “A pink shiny tongue indicates fresh breath, but if your tongue has a thick white film, it is likely that you have bad breath,” he said.

Another method is to lick your (clean) wrist. Let it dry for a few seconds, and then smell your wrist. If you detect an odor, according to Flax, it is an indicator that you have bad breath.

A simple and commonly employed method is to use a soft bristle toothbrush, tongue scraper, or the edge of a spoon to gently clean your tongue. This is to prevent your tongue from being a hotbed of bacteria. It is less likely the bacteria will harbor in your mouth.

The above methods are not meant to replace a dentist visit. You can request your dentist to perform a quick, easy, and painless test of the bacteria in your mouth to determine if you have bad breath. Until then, stay fresh and keep smiling.

Make you and your partner happier with fresher morning breath when you first wake up. The bad breath occurs because your saliva dries up during sleep. This allows bacteria to build up and produce foul smells. Remain calm! Remedies exist to reduce and eliminate the odor.

The Science Behind Morning Breath

Ok, we get it. You want to get rid of your toxic morning breath after a good night’s rest. Why do you wake up with it? Science tells us many bodily functions stop or slow down in our sleep. This includes our glands that produce saliva. Saliva plays a key role in combating bad breath. High amounts of oxygen exist in saliva, which kills anaerobic bacteria.

Additionally, saliva helps clear away food particles in your mouth that fuel the odor-producing bacteria. Combined with less saliva, the bacteria rapidly multiplies and creates stinky breath. Snoring or breathing through your mouth while sleeping means even worse morning breath will plague you. Mouth dryness remains the leading cause of bad breath.

Other Factors in Morning Breath

Several other culprits exist, as well. They contribute to studies finding about 50 percent of adults experience bad breath, or halitosis, during their lifetime, the American Dental Association reports. We’ve listed some of those other causes:

  • Tooth decay or cavities
  • Caps or crowns losing cement, also referred to as “cement washout”
  • Certain foods or drinks, such as onions, garlic and coffee
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Gingivitis, or gum inflammation, and periodontal disease, or gum disease
  • Mouth, nose and throat issues caused by infections or allergies
  • Dieting often
  • Medications
  • Diseases, such as diabetes, lung infections or abscesses, kidney or liver failure, acid reflux and other gastrointestinal conditions
  • Poor dental hygiene practices
  • Lack of regular dental cleanings

Note that if you eliminate all dental-related causes and still have bad breath, then we suggest you make an appointment to see a physician.

Treatments to Eliminate Morning Breath

Of course, exercising a good dental routine before you fall asleep is the best way to make your morning breath more fresh and clean. Brushing, flossing, gargling mouthwash and cleaning your tongue properly removes most food particles that help to generate bacteria in your mouth.

Tongue Scraper

Did you know about 85 percent of your bad breath comes from the back of your tongue? Stick out your tongue to view the white or brown coating at the back. That’s where bacteria hangs out and generates volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). Hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan are the primary bad smelling compounds.

That’s why Dr. Lauren at Orange Beach Family Dentistry and other dental experts recommend that before bed you place a tongue scraper at the back of the tongue and pull it forward to clean it. Many brands exist. Find a scraper that you like best that helps in eliminating sour morning breath.

Saliva Stimulants

Various dry mouth products exist, too. These increase the flow of saliva and some can even stay in your mouth overnight while you sleep. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, be sure to swish some water around in your mouth.

Baking Soda

Another helpful tool in the morning breath battle: gargle baking soda before going to bed. This creates an alkaline environment in your mouth that helps kill bacteria. Use a teaspoon of baking soda in one cup of water and gargle it for one minute. It’s safe to go ahead and swallow some of the solution to coat your throat. Most importantly, to remain effective, do not rinse your mouth after doing this.

Oral Probiotics

New research suggests oral probiotics — known primarily for promoting healthy digestion — can lead to improved dental hygiene. Oral probiotics are good bacteria that fight back the amount of bad bacteria. Additionally, findings indicate other benefits to the health of your mouth, such as teeth whitening and reducing bleeding of your gums.

Orange Beach Family Dentistry Takes Care of All of Your Dental Needs and More!

If you have any questions about bad morning breath or other dental issues, ask our friendly team members at Orange Beach Family Dentistry. Call us today to schedule an appointment for your regular cleaning or other dental needs! We will make your experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible.

Morning Breath: About, How to Deal With It

Your daily routine starts the same way each day: turn off the alarm (or snooze for 10 more minutes), take a deep stretch and begin compiling a mental to-do list. All the while, you may be aware of that foul taste in your mouth: morning breath. There’s no need to hang your head in embarrassment as everyone has probably dealt with it. Luckily, if you know the causes and how to fix them, you’ll be well on your way to a more pleasant morning!

Bad Breath & Morning Breath Causes

According to the American Dental Association, bad breath (also known as halitosis) usually emanates from the mouth as a result of inadequate oral hygiene. The mouth is a haven for food particles to gather. They can collect between teeth, along gum surfaces and on the tongue’s surface. Natural bacteria found in the mouth then break down those particles resulting in the release of chemicals. Those chemicals have a pungent odor.

In order to solve a problem, start by learning its origin. Morning breath can stem from multiple causes, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

  • Food. In addition to leftover food particles in the mouth, certain types of food can cause smelly breath. Garlic, onions and spices enter the bloodstream once they’re digested. They’re then carried to your lungs where they have an adverse effect on breath, especially if you eat foods late at night before going to sleep.
  • Dry mouth. Saliva is your friend when it comes to cleansing the mouth. Saliva breaks down the bacteria and washes away those remaining particles. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth decreases saliva production. Production naturally decreases overnight as you sleep, hence, that’s why so many people wake up with bad breath.
  • Neglecting oral care. In addition to removing those pesky food particles with proper brushing and flossing, disregarding good oral care can lead to periodontal disease.
  • Tobacco. There’s a reason smokers have lousy breath. They’re also more prone to gum disease because of smoking.
  • Medications. Certain medications result in dry mouth. Others are broken down by the body and release foul chemicals on your breath.

Quick Fixes

With a little ingenuity and diligence, morning breath is easily conquered. Some tips provide quick relief while some are preventative.

  • Brush. Once you’re up, make brushing the first thing you do. Your toothbrush will eliminate any left-behind particles contributing to bad breath.
  • Rinse. If you prefer to wait until after breakfast to brush, give your mouth a quick rinse. Not only will it freshen up your mouth, but it fights plaque that targets teeth and gums.
  • Start chewing. Keep a pack of sugar-free, mint-flavored gum in your nightstand and take a quick chew. Chewing gum will generate that saliva flow and the mint will leave a pleasant aftertaste.
  • Go green. Keep your refrigerator stocked with fresh parsley. A quick chew on just a small piece does wonders on smelly breath.
  • Break bad habits. One way to avoid morning breath altogether is to avoid things that cause it. That means watching what you eat at night, kicking the tobacco habit and keeping your body well-hydrated. If you wake up thirsty at night, keep a glass of water next to your bed so you can take small swigs.

No matter what time of day, bad breath is bad news for your mouth. One constant in the fight against it is developing good oral care habits. That means brushing at least twice a day and following up with dental floss. And remember to book those regular dental checkups too. Beating bad breath is enough to make anyone wake up smiling.

What Causes Morning Breath?

Some mornings, the only thing that can convince you to get out of a warm, snuggly bed is the overwhelming stench emanating from your own mouth. Possibly the only thing worse than morning breath is the alarm clock itself, but no amount of brushing, flossing, or stinging mouthwash rinsing the night before seem capable of saving you from the stinking scourge. What gives?

Here’s the good news: Morning breath is just regular, run-of-the-mill bad breath, or halitosis—a diagnosis that sounds much worse than it is. While chronic halitosis is fairly uncommon, most people wake up with some form of oral unpleasantness, and there’s nothing medically worrying about it. But that doesn’t make it any more of a joy, especially for the first person you talk to before brushing your teeth.

The key to understanding why our breath smells first thing in the morning is to first understand why it doesn’t smell the rest of the time. As we go about our usual daylight business, bacteria are at work breaking down all the amino acids, proteins, and other chemicals left behind in our mouths from our last meal. This process produces volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) like hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, and methyl mercapatan, which are responsible for the funk. In our waking hours, our own saliva washes away the bacteria before they can do their smelly damage; when we fall asleep, our saliva production calls it a night, too. In the absence of much saliva, the VSC-causing bacteria run wild, and the sulfuric compounds build up until their grand unveiling in the morning.

It’s a simple equation—mouth plus bacteria minus saliva equals yuck—but the bad news is that there’s not much we can do about it. Brushing before bed will help minimize the damage by reducing the amount of compounds for the bacteria to feed on, and drinking a glass of water before bed will compensate at least a little bit for the impending loss of saliva. Other than that, keep your mouth locked down in the morning until you can get to a toothbrush, and we’ll all live happier, fresher-smelling lives.

Causes Of Bad Breath

Bad breath, also known as oral malodor or halitosis, is a very common and treatable condition for many adults. It can be caused by something you eat, or more seriously, can signify a deeper oral health issue or serious medical issue. Here we’ll describe possible causes of common bad breath as well as chronic bad breath or halitosis.

General Oral Health

Most bad breath is caused by poor oral hygiene. If you don’t clean your teeth and your whole mouth regularly, food particles can remain in your mouth and a sticky buildup of bacteria (also known as plaque) can form on your teeth. The uneven surface of your tongue as well as your tonsils can trap food particles and bacteria in the mouth which produce bad breath odor. Poor oral hygiene also causes other oral health conditions such as cavities and gum disease which are also associated with bad breath. Keeping a consistent and thorough oral care routine is the best defense against bad breath.

Eating Flavorful Food & Drink

After eating certain foods—like onions, garlic, certain vegetables and spices—odor-causing food particles enter the bloodstream and are carried to the lungs, where they affect the odor of your breath each time you exhale.


If you’re a big fan of a strong cup of coffee in the morning to start your day, you may have noticed that it can leave you feeling like you have bad breath. Coffee can be a cause of bad breath due its intense flavor as well as the effect it has on saliva production. After drinking coffee, the caffeine leads to a decline in saliva production. Less saliva means an increase in odor-causing bacteria.


Alcohol consumption is another culprit of bad breath, so the more often you drink – the more likely you are to experience it. Drinking alcohol, particularly in excess, causes a decrease in saliva production, which is the best environment for odor-causing bacteria to flourish.

High-sugar Diets

In addition to adventurous or spicy foods, diets that are high in sugar and protein can also result in bad breath. A diet high in sugar can lead to bad breath and could be the culprit for halitosis due to how sugars interact with the existing bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth feed on sugars turning sweet treats in to sour smells.

High-Protein or Low-Carb Diets

Carbohydrates serve crucial functions in our bodies, and if your diet is low enough in carbs, it can lead to bad breath. When the body doesn’t get enough carbs due to an extreme diet, this can cause changes to your body’s metabolism which can lead to bad breath.

High-protein foods are sometimes difficult for your body to digest and tend to release sulfurous gases when they don’t metabolize. Avoid this by eating a more balanced and nutritious diet including more vegetables and herbs.


Tobacco products—whether it’s cigarettes, chew, or pipe—all cause bad breath and lead to much more serious oral health issues. Apart from leaving your mouth smelling like an ashtray, they damage the gum tissue and cause gum disease.

Digestive Issues

Poor digestion, constipation, or bowel disorders can all cause unfortunate odor on the breath. If you frequently experience acid reflux, the odors from recently consumed foods may easily make their way back up the esophagus and out the mouth, causing bad breath.

Dry Mouth

Saliva helps keep your mouth clean by removing food particles that lead to bad breath. When the production of saliva slackens or stops, a condition known as xerostomia, bad breath is likely to follow. This happens naturally while you sleep, which is why most people find their breath to be a bit stinky upon waking up. But if the problem persists throughout the day, treatment may be worth considering.

Prescription Medication

Hundreds of prescription medications come with the side effect of dry mouth. When your mouth is dry, when saliva production decreases, the environment for odor-causing bacteria thrives. Any extended period of time with cotton mouth can cause discomfort and lead to bad breath. Additionally, some medications, when broken down in the body, release chemicals that can be carried through your blood stream to your breath.

Other Causes

Although most bad breath is caused by odor-causing bacteria, there are a number of other health conditions that may be contributing to the problem. Bad breath can be a warning sign that other diseases or illnesses are present. Postnasal drip, respiratory and tonsil infections, sinus problems, diabetes, liver and kidney issues, as well as certain blood disorders can all cause bad breath. In some rarer cases, bad breath could be a sign of cancer or other serious conditions like metabolic disorders.

Why Do We Have Morning Breath?

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 saliva 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. The trick is you have to follow directions.”

Do you have a health head-scratcher? Submit it here, and we may answer your question in a future column!

Bad breath (halitosis)

Treatment for bad breath that is not due to poor oral hygiene or dental issues will vary depending on the underlying medical condition. Your GP will determine the appropriate treatment for the specific cause of bad breath that is not related to problems inside the mouth.

Self-care and lifestyle changes

Things that you can do to treat bad breath by keeping your mouth and teeth healthy include:

  • Brush your teeth (gently) at least twice a day or after meals, for at least 2 minutes, with a soft-bristled toothbrush and using a fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss or use interdental brushes at least once a day to clean between your teeth
  • Use a tongue scrapper once a day to clean your tongue
  • Visit a dentist regularly, at least once per year
  • Chang your toothbrush every 3–4 months
  • Keep dentures clean and removing them at night before sleeping
  • Keep dental retainers, night guards, and mouth guards clean
  • Use antibacterial mouth rinse or toothpaste. Consider alcohol-free mouth rinse if mouth dryness is an issue for you.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and reduced flow of saliva
  • Quit smoking and don’t use chewing tobacco products
  • Avoid sugary drinks and foods and other foods that cause bad breath
  • Decrease alcohol intake.

Updated: June 2019

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *