You may have noticed that first thing in the morning, your breath is not-so-fresh.  Or you may have realized this about your sleeping partner. Morning breath, in itself, is normal and not a cause for alarm. Several factors contribute to the phenomenon known as “morning breath”, and some factors make morning breath even worse.

Saliva-Most of the time we take saliva for granted.  If often gets in the way when we speak, or eat, or plat the clarinet.  Saliva is the reason that we don’t have morning breath all the time.  Saliva’s job is to wash away the bacteria in our mouths.  Saliva production, like many biological processes, slows way down at night.  Other factors inhibit saliva production.  Smoking causes our mouths to produce less saliva.  Certain medications, including those used to treat chronic pain, muscle relaxers, and psychiatric medications, cause our mouths to dry out due to diminished saliva production.

Bacteria– Our mouths contain large numbers of bacteria.  Even the cleanest mouths contain millions of bacteria.  When we sleep, we produce less saliva, and saliva is our strongest anti-bacterial defense.  Without normal levels of saliva, the bacteria in our mouths are able to thrive-breaking down proteins, amino acids, and any other leftovers from our last meal.  In other words, the bacteria in our mouths are eating what we ate.  And, just like humans, when they eat, they also excrete.   When bacteria excrete, they produce sulfur compounds, which smell like rotten eggs.

Many individuals sleep with their mouths open, which dries up what little saliva is produced.  Smoking, eating strong foods, having a cold, some medications, and not brushing before bed all make morning breath worse.

If you want to lessen the offensiveness of your morning breath, try some of the following suggestions.

  • Brush before bed-clean your teeth with thorough brushing and flossing.  Leave as little food for the bacteria as possible.  Don’t eat after brushing.  If you eat again, brush again.
  • Professional cleaning-Get your teeth cleaned twice a year or as often as your dentist recommends.  Dental hygienists can get into the tight spaces between teeth and beneath the gum-line that you miss.  Gingivitis is a gum disease which is caused by those bacterial excretions.  Professional cleanings will often resolve gingivitis, another cause of bad breath.
  • Water-Keep a bottle/glass/cup of water near your bed.  If you wake up, take a drink or two to help keep your mouth hydrated.  Make sure to keep your body fully hydrated so it can make plenty of saliva.  Drinks containing alcohol, caffeine, and some herbs will dehydrate you.  Make sure to drink extra water if you drink dehydrating liquids.

  • Don’t smoke-smoking further dries your mouth out, and gives you smokers breath in addition to morning breath.
  • Breathe Easy-Many times a stuffy nose will cause you to sleep with your mouth open, and anti-histamines further dry your mouth.  Talk to your doctor about possible solutions if you have allergies or frequent colds.

Basically, increasing your saliva while decreasing food for bacteria is the best way to be inoffensive until you can get to your toothbrush.