Why Does Alcohol Cause Bad Breath?
Why is it, that as much fun as it can be, a night out on the town can bring with it so many unpleasant side effects and consequences? A night out for drinks with friends, although enjoyable in the moment, can lead to some moments the next day that are far from enjoyable. One of those moments very likely will be realizing that you have some unusually unpleasant breath. Some describe the experience as sweet smelling or metallic tasting. Yuck. If you imbibed alcohol, even if you were not overserved (leading to an unpleasant set of symptoms collectively known as a hangover), you can experience this post-alcohol fueled discomfort. So why is it that alcohol, specifically, can leave you with such a bad case of halitosis?
Interestingly enough, the big picture of bad breath after drinking has quite a bit to do with the very little picture—the oral microbiome. Each and every mouth has a distinct combination of bacteria and other microorganisms living inside it. This is the oral microbiome. When it is healthy, the bacteria living in the mouth are not dangerous to oral health and may have provided health benefits. On the other hand, when the conditions in the oral environment shift, pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and fungi can start to overgrow, causing a host of health problems. One of the early signs of a problematic shift in the oral microbiome can be bad breath.
On a More Technical Note…
A study from 2018 looked at how alcohol drinking changes the types and amounts of bacteria in the oral environment. They found that drinkers had fewer of a specific type of bacteria, Lactobacillus, that is often found in a healthy oral environment. They also had more of some types of bacteria that may contribute to cavities and gum disease. Those same types of bacteria that tend to cause disease are also likely to produce the VSC (Volatile Sulfur Compounds), the chemicals that cause bad breath.
Alcohol can also aggravate acid reflux. Particularly when consumed in the early 20’s drinking is associated with a higher risk of developing GERD, also called reflux disease. Reflux can is also a known contributor to bad breath. Partially digested food coming back out of the stomach causes unpleasant breath. When alcohol relaxes the muscles at the top of the stomach, bad breath is likely to follow.
So, it’s not just in your head. Consuming drinks containing alcohol can give you severe bad breath. So, is there anything that can be done about it?
How to Stop Bad Breath from Alcohol
Keeping a healthy pH level in your mouth is important to help keep your oral biome healthy. After an evening drinking, a high pH oral rinse may be helpful in correcting the imbalance and stemming off bad breath before it has a chance to take hold. Drinking alcohol with a meal instead of alone also can help keep the natural pH cycle of your mouth from being thrown out of balance. Additionally, dry mouth allows for the overgrowth of dangerous oral bacteria, so staying hydrated and drinking plain water during and after drinking alcohol can help preserve your overall health and fight alcohol-fueled bad breath.
The Bottom Line for “Hangover Halitosis”
The bottom line is—alcohol can make your breath unpleasant, but the bad breath is not the worst of it. The real risk is that the conditions that cause bad breath are generally accompanied by conditions favorable for or caused by oral infections that are dangerous to your teeth and gums. But, there are simple steps you can take to treat the bad breath and improve your oral health after a night of drinking.