What Can I Do About Morning Breath?

You know right away when you’ve got it from the stale sour taste in your mouth. What causes morning breath and what can you do about it?

By Sheryl Grassie

Morning breath is a form of bad breath that is often concentrated first thing in the morning from having slept for 7 to 9 hours. You can have a version of it when you wake after a nap as well. Bad breath, or halitosis as it is formally termed, is a common problem for between 35-45 percent of the population. It can come and go, or become chronic, and in the bigger picture, it is usually caused by either lifestyle choices or illness. The problem, meaning the bad breath, can be coming from the mouth, the stomach, or the lungs. Let’s look more specifically at what might be causing it in the different loci and what to do about it.

The Mouth

Our mouths are full of tiny food particles that can grow bacteria. When bacteria grow, they have a nasty sour smell. These food particles and bacteria need to be washed away and we accomplish this naturally with saliva and with brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, and mouthwash. The more bacteria have a chance to build up, especially if oral care is lacking, the more our breath tends to sour. The less bacteria, the less smell, so good oral hygiene can make a big difference in eliminating morning breath.

Another way odor causing bacteria can flourish, is if we don’t have enough saliva production and experience dry mouth. Especially overnight, if we are dehydrated, breathe through our mouths, or are taking certain medications, our mouths can dry out allowing bacteria to grow and our breath to turn sour.

Chronic bad or morning breath can further be caused by periodontal disease, which can include gum disease.  As the Mayo Clinic states, “Gum disease can cause gums to pull away from your teeth, leaving deep pockets that fill with odor-causing bacteria.” This can be improved by good oral care, brushing your teeth and tongue, flossing and using a mouth rinse. You may need more professional interventions if disease is advanced, so see your dentist if you have red or sensitive gums or bleeding, loose teeth, or pain.

The Stomach

Morning breath can come from the stomach, especially if you have medical conditions like acid reflux or GERD, which can be particularly problematic overnight. The same food particles that can grow bacteria in the mouth can ferment in the stomach and cause that sour smell.  Also, ingesting lots of acidic foods like coffee and alcohol help create an environment for bacteria to propagate. 

The Lungs

Our breath is directly connected to what we breathe out. Certain foods like garlic and onions are digested and make their way into the bloodstream and then are secreted from the lungs. This process is actually a healthy way the lungs clean themselves, but the smell can cause bad breath. Further, things like smoking or vaping, where tobacco is taken deep into the lungs, can result in foul smelling air exhaled into the mouth that creates morning breath or bad breath at any time. 

What Can I Do?

There are different levels to treating morning breath. Either get rid of the symptoms, or treat the cause, or do both. You can treat the symptoms of morning breath by using gum, brushing your teeth and tongue, using mouthwash, chewing spearmint or parsley, and rinsing with baking soda or mouthwash. All of these things work well temporarily, but consider the Bad Breath Institute’s tagline, “Treat your bad breath, don’t cover it up.”

If you want to eliminate the cause in a more permanent fashion, consider some of the following as they apply. Stop smoking or using tobacco, watch spicy foods, stay well hydrated, practice better oral care, consider treatment for acid reflux, and get help for mouth breathing. There are further medical conditions that can have bad breath associated with them, so check with your doctor if morning breath persists, or go to the dentist for a good cleaning and advice on how to eliminate your morning breath.


Morning breath is a part of life for most people. It can be temporary or chronic and stem from a variety of different issues. In general, bacteria generate a sour smell, and when it builds up in the mouth, it causes bad breath or halitosis. Morning breath can also originate in the stomach or the lungs. It can stem from foods or habits like smoking or from being dehydrated. Solutions are simple oral care techniques, or a visit to the dentist or doctor for more serious concerns.

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