The Different Kinds of Bad Breath, Part 4: Stomach Breath

Compared to many of the other "bad breaths" I've discussed, stomach breath is probably the least common. This is because gastrointestinal issues that could lead to bad breath are usually pervasive enough for someone to seek treatment.
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Let's move forward in our series on bad breath. Once again, I'll mention that I am doing these more or less to illustrate that bad breath (aka halitosis) is far from an "easy" condition to diagnose and treat -- the causes can be varied and complex, and the treatment is sometimes far different than reaching for your favorite chewing gum or breath mint.

Recent articles in this series have focused on "tonsil breath," "lung breath," and last week, I did "sinus breath." This week, we'll continue and tackle one of the worst offenders of all, stomach breath.

I say "stomach breath" is the worst not so much because it's difficult to detect, diagnose, or treat... it's the worst because, quite frankly, it stinks. Breath issues that are gastrointestinal in nature are... well... ripe, to say the least. Think about it -- has anyone ever burped in your face? What did it smell like? Nasty, right? Well, that's breath that's gastrointestinal in nature (aka "stomach breath," which is my term and not "official").

Now, compared to many of the other "bad breaths" I've discussed, stomach breath is probably the least common. This is because gastrointestinal issues that could lead to bad breath are usually pervasive enough for someone to seek treatment. Look, your stomach hurts, or you have chronic gas -- you're probably going to see the doctor, right? I would hope, anyway. And once you treat the issue, the bad breath associated with it goes away.

There are many causes of stomach breath -- almost any stomach-related disorder can affect your breath, even if "bad breath" isn't listed as a symptom. Think about it -- something like acid reflux may or may not have "bad breath" listed as a symptom (it depends on the individual tome or website), but we can logically assume that stomach acid and pieces of food coming up into the throat is going to carry an odor.

To give you an example of the above, the National Institute of Health lists Gastric Carcinoma (stomach cancer) as a possible source of bad breath (1). But then they don't list bad breath as a symptom on its own page (2). I just thought that would be helpful in pointing out.

Here are some stomach / gastrointestinal issues that can cause bad breath:

• Anything "smelly" that you eat: This is an obvious one, but anything you eat with an odor can cause bad breath three ways -- from residual food in your mouth, from your stomach during digestion, and (as previously blogged about) your lungs after digestion.

• Gerd (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) / Acid Reflux / Heartburn: These fall under the "may or may not" have bad breath listed as a symptom. Usually, the bad breath associated with these is an afterthought, but again, any kind of affliction that causes stomach acid / heartburn / stomach distress will come with an odor (especially if you can taste it -- with taste almost always comes a smell).

• Gas: Yup, plain old gas will contribute to bad breath. Anything that makes you belch / burp is going to cause people in your vicinity to crumple their nose. Now, this is okay if you are 9 years old on the school bus (hey, it might even be cool). This isn't so great when you're 29 and at a dinner party, though.

• Bowel Obstruction: It may sound silly, but a bowel obstruction could cause bad breath (I suspect it smells like feces -- I'm not kidding). (3)

• "Leaky Gut" syndrome: All right, now we get a little controversial. "Leaky Gut Syndrome" is pretty much a gray area in terms of being an actual condition. I'll provide a WebMD link (4), but let me be clear that this is not a definitive term that's accepted by everyone. Yet, it's talked about a lot, so I would be remiss to not include it. Basically, "leaky gut syndrome" seems to be a blanket term for an undiagnosed stomach disorder. Gas, cramps, food disorders, etc. -- these all fall under "Leaky Gut Syndrome." But they also exist in a lot of other conditions / afflictions, which reaffirms what I said about it -- it's a bit controversial. I will say my wife has something akin to this -- she has RA and several allergies. When she doesn't eat, she has no pain. When she eats, pain. It's odd, and there's no definitive diagnosis, but more than one medical professional has thrown the term "Leaky Gut" at her, which sounds oddly like "we don't know," but I digress (I am getting off topic here, as my wife doesn't have bad breath).

As I searched around for these, I also came across a million "cleanse yourself" offers and websites, so prepare yourself for that if you want to further explore this topic.

I'll go full-circle now and wrap this up today -- gastrointestinal issues can be related to bad breath, although it's not as common as the other types of bad breath (if I had to guess, in my professional opinion, it's about 10 percent). Also, they almost all stem from the same general thing, and that is "your burps stink."

Until next time, keep smiling.

For more by Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S., click here.

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