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From Heartburn to Halitosis: Understanding and Treating Acid Reflux and Bad Breath


medically reviewed by Dr Godmi Tresa

Dr. Bhavya

Updated on October 19, 2023

"Bad breath is like a bad song—nobody wants to listen."

Also known as halitosis, it can get embarrassing and frustrating! It can negatively impact one's self-esteem and personal relationships. While everyone experiences occasional bad breath, is it considered something that someone should take care of? Chronic halitosis is a severe problem that can indicate underlying gut health and overall well-being issues. If you're looking for gut health expert advice, you're at the right place.

Acid reflux, called GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is a chronic condition where contents are refluxed from the stomach (gastrum) into the food pipe (oesophagus).

To read more about this condition, visit our GERD blog.

Acid reflux and bad breath often co-occur. 

Is this the sole reason for your bad breath? Then, let's explore this relationship and go through immediate solutions that one can implement to alleviate bad breath.

Bad breath and acid reflux- is there a relation?

Research studies say that there is a prevalence of 25% of halitosis in the general population.

The most common causes of halitosis are oral conditions and diseases of the mouth.

A new analysis by scientific researchers has brought out a new classification of halitosis as;

  • Type 1 (oral)
  • Type 2 (airway-related)
  • Type 3 (gastroesophageal)
  • Type 4 (haematogenous)
  • Type 5 (subjective)

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The most common disorders leading to halitosis include the following

  • ENT: Chronic sinusitis, infected tonsils, deviated septum, neoplastic changes.
  • Gastroenterological: Gastroesophageal reflux disease, H. pylori infection.
  • Pulmonary: Bronchitis, lung cancer.
  • Metabolic diseases: Diabetes, kidney diseases.

According to the research results, halitosis coexists with symptoms of GERD, such as heartburn, regurgitation, and a sour taste in the mouth. 

Additionally, patients with active IBD forms showed an increased incidence of halitosis compared to patients in remission.

People presume that the process may be caused by increased oxidative stress or direct fermentation of products in the diet.

AMLA PITTA in Ayurveda - How Indigestion, GERD and Halitosis are Correlated?

The scholars of Ayurveda have related almost all the health issues in the human body to indigestion. 

Ayurveda considers vitiation of digestive fire/agni as the root cause of diseases.

According to Ayurvedic experts, GERD results from improper digestive health, resulting in repeated sour eructations, known as Amlapitta.

Amla means sour, and Pitta is the metabolic bioenergy of your body. When the normal Pitta gets fermented and attains a sour taste, the resultant is Amlapitta.

This undigested food substance and food regurgitations are the reasons for bad breath in the presence of acid reflux.

"Oral hygiene or the condition of your tongue and oral health is always correlated with your gut health. If you have bad breath and no other visible cause, we can determine that it results from indigestion. This indigestion leads to the collection of metabolic toxins called 'Aama' in Ayurveda, which reflects as "bad breath", says Dr Israa Ismail.

How to Find If You Are a Victim of Your Breath?

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Your olfactory sense is highly effective at detecting and distinguishing between scents that may be hazardous, such as smoke, and those that are pleasurable, such as the aroma of your favourite dish cooking. However, as your sense of smell adjusts to familiar scents, they fade into the background and become less noticeable unless they threaten your well-being.

Since you get constantly exposed to the scent of your breath, which is not considered a hazard, your olfactory system adapts and no longer detects it.

You must be familiar with the old trick of breathing into and smelling your hand, as shown in TV shows. However, contrary to Hollywood's portrayal, this method could be more reliable. 

A more effective way to manually assess your breath is to lick the inside of your wrist and smell it. The scent of your breath on your skin will be more apparent and discernible to your nose. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that even this technique may be partially foolproof.

If you suspect that your breath may be unpleasant, there are several methods you can use to confirm this:

  • At Home

 You can ask someone you trust to let you know whether your breath smells fresh or foul.

Additionally, using a tongue scraper can be helpful in both detecting and alleviating bad breath. You can determine whether your breath is odorous by scraping the back of your tongue, which is often a source of bad breath, and smelling the scraper. Consider incorporating tongue brushing or scraping into your daily oral hygiene routine if it has an unpleasant smell.

  • Gauze Test

Use a small piece of medical gauze to wipe your tongue and then smell the gauze to determine how your tongue smells. 

  • Airbag Test

Here you exhale into an airtight bag several times and then smell the bag to determine the odour of your breath. 

  • Floss Test

Using unflavored floss to clean between your teeth and under the gum line, and then smell the floss to determine the odour of the space between your teeth.

  • Bad breath Test Conducted by your Dentist

The Halimeter test, for instance, measures the level of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) in your breath, which are caused by bacterial overgrowth in the mouth or bowel. Typically, VSC measurements above 100 parts per billion suggest bad breath. 

You can also purchase and use a halimeter, but it's best to ask your Dentist for recommendations before buying.

Another method dentists use is the organoleptic method, which involves using a plastic straw to assess the smell of your breath. The Dentist will usually compare your exhalations from your nose to those from your mouth to decide. Remember that these tests may only sometimes produce consistent results, so it's best to ask your Dentist which type would be most appropriate for you.

Did you know that if your breath smells sour, it can be due to the underlying issues of your gut? It is an identified suggestion that you suffer from GERD-related lousy breath.

Other Cause Of Bad Breath

Halitosis, or bad breath, can be caused by various factors. Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly can lead to a buildup of bacteria in the mouth, which can cause bad breath.
  • Food and Drinks: Certain foods and beverages, such as garlic, onions, coffee, and alcohol, can cause temporary bad breath.
  • Dry mouth: Saliva helps to cleanse the mouth, so when the mouth is dry, bacteria can accumulate and cause bad breath.
  • Smoking can cause bad breath by leaving a lingering odour in the mouth and throat.
  • Gum Disease: Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, can cause bad breath due to the buildup of bacteria in the gums.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain conditions, such as sinus infections, respiratory infections, and acid reflux, can cause bad breath.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as antidepressants and antihistamines, can cause dry mouth and lead to bad breath.
  • Stress: Stress can cause dry mouth, contributing to bad breath.

"Whenever I used to take coffee, the after-effect was a horrible smell from my mouth. It was so embarrassing. This made me skip coffee dates. I did not know my indigestion and acid reflux was causing my bad breath." 

- Nirva Client.

Let's see how Nirva fixes such problems for the clients.

In the long term, addressing the root cause of acid reflux is essential, rather than just treating the symptoms. Identifying and treating the underlying problem can alleviate the discomfort associated with acid reflux and prevent it from recurring. Therefore, it is crucial to work with a healthcare provider to determine the cause of your GERD/reflux and develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses it. 

The changes may involve lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, medication, or other therapies, depending on the underlying cause and individual needs.

Please read our blog on GERD for more details.

Quick Remedies for Bad Breath


  • Start Your Day with a Glass of Water: Drinking water on an empty stomach can help flush toxins and hydrate your body. However, avoid drinking too much water right after a meal, as it may dilute stomach acid and impair digestion.
  • Chew Some Fresh Parsley: Parsley contains chlorophyll, which can help neutralise bad breath caused by GERD. Chew on some fresh parsley leaves or add them to your meals as a garnish.
  • Squeeze Some Lemon Juice: Lemon juice is acidic but has an alkalising effect on the body. Drinking lemon water or adding lemon juice to your meals can help stimulate digestion and prevent acid reflux. However, be careful not to consume too much lemon juice, which may irritate your throat or erode your teeth' enamel.
  • Try Licorice Chews: Licorice is a natural supplement that can soothe the lining of your oesophagus and stomach without reducing stomach acid. 
  • Avoid Overeating: Overeating or fast can increase pressure on your LES lower oesophagal sphincter and trigger reflux symptoms. Aim to eat smaller, more frequent meals and chew your food thoroughly.
  • Don't skip meals and rely on coffee: Skipping meals or consuming only morning coffee can stimulate stomach acid production and worsen GERD. Instead, try to have a balanced breakfast with protein, fibre, and healthy fats.
  • Practise deep breathing after meals: Taking deep belly breaths can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and digestion. BreatheBreathe slowly through your nose, hold for a few seconds and exhale through your mouth. Repeat several times until you feel calm and centred.

A quick tip from Nirva health experts: Take one teaspoon of dried ginger powder, mix it with a teaspoon of ghee and consume it 10 minutes before food.

How to maintain Good oral hygiene?

  • Use mouth rinses
  • Brush after food
  • Treat any dental disease
  • Avoid dry mouth
  • Clean dentures, if any
  • Regularly get a new toothbrush
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Use tongue scraper

Why Do You Need Medical Attention for Bad Breath?

While bad breath may seem minor, it can have significant social and emotional consequences. Imagine being on a first date or job interview and self-conscious about your breath - not a confidence booster!

Did you know?

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, has been documented in ancient texts dating back to 1550 BC. The ancient Egyptians used aromatic herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, myrrh, and frankincense, to freshen their breath.

Moreover, bad breath can be a symptom of underlying health issues, such as gum disease, respiratory infections, or liver and kidney problems. You can freshen your breath and identify and treat any underlying conditions by seeking medical attention.

So the next time you reach for a mint or breath freshener, remember that bad breath is more than just an inconvenience - it's a historical and potentially serious health concern that deserves attention!

Know what Ayurvedic manuscripts say about daily routine to maintain oral hygiene and digestive health by contacting our gut health experts.

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