Since we’re celebrating National Coffee Day around here (September 29th), we need to have a serious chat about why our favorite beverage has not just a day named after it, but also a breath. A bad breath.
Think about it… how many other beverages can you name that have a recognizable odor named after them? Especially one that emanates from your mouth?
You don’t hear people refer to “tea breath” or “orange juice breath.” But you do hear about (and have probably smelled, unfortunately) “coffee breath.”
Lest you misunderstand… almost all of us here at Team TUNG are huge coffee drinkers. We’re connoisseurs. (OK… we might be coffee snobs—we just don’t like the implications of that term. After all, we’re very welcoming of everyone, no matter their level of coffee sophistication!)
What is Coffee Breath?
There are some important things you can do to help reduce or even eliminate coffee breath. But before we get to them, it’ll help to understand exactly why coffee gives you bad breath in the first place.
#1: Sulfur Compounds
Sulfur compounds—specifically certain volatile sulfur compounds—make up a significant portion of the scent that you and I know as “bad breath.” They’re released by the bacteria that live on your tongue.
But they’re also found in some of the substances that you take in as food and drink, and… you’ve probably guessed it by now… coffee is one of them.
That’s right: coffee contains some of the chemicals that smell like stink.
#2: Coffee Has Caffeine. Caffeine Can Lead to Dry Mouth
Medical types call it “xerostomia.” But it’s commonly known as “dry mouth.”
(Side note: it’s pronounced “zero STOW mee ah,” not “zero STOW mah,” like I said it in our video on this subject.)
Regardless of what you call it or how you pronounce it, when your mouth gets dry, bacteria tend to thrive. Saliva and fluids in your mouth help keep those bacteria in check.
When the bacteria thrive, they produce lots of volatile sulfur compounds, which smell bad (see #1).
#3: You’re Feeding the Bacteria
If you drink your coffee black, you can skip to the next one. On the other hand, if you’re sucking on a Pumpkin Spice Latte (#PSL) right now… or a caramel macchiato… or a latte, cappuccino, or maybe you just like your regular drip coffee with a load of cream and sugar in it, then this one is for you.
You’re feeding them.
Bacteria feed on the protein in the dairy products, and they also like the sugar in the flavorings, syrups, and sweeteners that you use to juice up your favorite beverage.
So… that makes a total of 3 significant factors that lead to coffee breath. What’s next?
Now… the real coffee aficionados mean something a bit different when they refer to the acidity of the coffee. They’re usually referring to a component of the flavor profile in the beverage, which varies from one varietal to the next, and also with different roasts. A higher acidity flavor will leave your mouth feeling “clean.”
But for our purposes here, I’m just referring to the actual acid content in your coffee.
Like many of our favorite beverages, coffee has a pH level that puts it on the acidic side of things. If you’ve forgotten your high-school chemistry, a 7.0 is “neutral.” Anything higher is basic (or “alkaline”), and anything lower is acidic.
Lemon juice? It’s about a 2.0. Milk is a bit milder, but still acidic at around 6.5. Coffee varies, but let’s call it a 5 on average (if it’s black!).
Why does acidity matter? Well, we’re back to the bacteria again here. They love acidic environments. They’re more active, they eat and metabolize (read: produce nasty-smelling waste) faster, and they reproduce faster when they’re in acidic environments.
The bottom line? More stink.
#5: Flavor Means Odor
Hey… it’s true of just about anything you eat or drink that has a lot of flavor: there’s usually an aftertaste.
Think about it… any time you have an aftertaste in your mouth, there just might be an aroma escaping your lips that you can’t smell.
We say it often around here, but it’s true: you can’t smell your own breath. It’s the very definition of being “noseblind” to an aroma. This one is so “under your nose” that your nose won’t report it to your brain… probably ever.
(Sure, there are some tricks that might give you hints about what your breath smells like, but most of them involve getting some saliva out of your mouth and letting it dry. The most reliable way to find out how it smells is to ask someone you trust.)
So… there you have it. The 5 major reasons why coffee gives you bad breath.
What can you do about it?
How to Fix Coffee Breath
There are 2 really simple things you can do to get rid of coffee breath. Unfortunately, this isn’t a “once and for all” thing, because you’re going to drink more coffee. But with a little planning, you can set yourself up to never have coffee breath again.
The first one might be a little bit obvious:
#1: Drink Water
Chase that coffee beverage with a glass of H20. First of all, it’s really good for you, and you probably aren’t drinking enough water anyway. So… down a glass. Or a bottle. (We aren’t choosy around here.)
This will help reduce all of the symptoms we talked about above:
- it helps wash out the sulfur compounds,
- it certainly reduces “dry mouth,”
- it flushes out not only the bacteria but the food they consume,
- it helps reduce the acidity in your mouth (water is neutral, so it won’t neutralize the acidity like a “base” would, but it will certainly dilute the acidity for you),
- and it helps reduce the intense flavors (and their leftovers) in your mouth as well.
#2: Clean Your Tongue
For some reason, we’ve been led to believe that brushing your teeth will reduce bad breath. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it hurts anything, but your teeth just aren’t where the bad breath problem hangs out!
The bacteria on your tongue collect themselves into colonies which develop into biofilms. These are sticky masses that cling together and cling to your tongue… like glue.
That’s why rinsing your mouth out only partially solves the problem. These bacteria need to be removed mechanically from the places they get settled into.
While we’re talking about rinsing, I should point out that mouthwash will mask the odors for a while, but the alcohol-laden varieties will ultimately only dry your mouth out (see #2 above).
Sure you can scrape, claw, or do other things to remove these bacteria from your tongue, but your blood is on your own hands (or scraper, as the case may be).
This is why we invented the original tongue brush. It’s perfectly designed to reach back to the back parts of your tongue, where some of the most stubborn bacteria colonies can often be found. And the bristles of the brush will penetrate into the nooks and crannies of your tongue and do a much better job than a scraper ever could.
And the specially formulated TUNG Gel will help you clean your tongue, help neutralize the odors, and will leave your breath smelling minty fresh.
If you’ve never used the TUNG Brush & Gel, then you’ve never cleaned your tongue in comfort. Pick up a starter pack today… or, if you have a significant other in your life, why not pickup a partner pack so you can both have the freshest breath of your lives?
Questions About Bad Breath or Your Oral Health?
Drop ’em in the comments below. Team TUNG will be happy to tackle them for you… and if we create a video or other content to answer your question, we’ll send you something special as a “thank you!”