These 3 Drinks Are Not Your Breath's Best Friends

You may want to rethink your next cup of coffee.

This article was medically reviewed by Steffini Stalos, DO, who is board-certified in Pathology and Lab Medicine, on July 14, 2022.

Everyone knows that some foods like garlic and onions can cause a stink bomb in your mouth, but there are also certain drinks that are especially bad when it comes to your breath. If you're having a conversation with a friend or colleague and notice them doing a hard lean-away, your breath may be to blame–and it might be time to reconsider your drink choices.

Bad breath usually stems from one of three things, explained Gigi Meinecke, DMD, a dentist with the Academy of General Dentistry based in Potomac, Maryland:

  • Acid reflux from the stomach
  • Postnasal drip from air passages
  • Substances called volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs, in the mouth

The mouth is home to tons of species of bacteria that survive on the food you eat, and when these bacteria digest your meals, they produce stinky VSCs, which are in turn responsible for less than ideal breath.

Part of taming bad breath includes staying hydrated–but not all liquids are created equal. Some drinks will actually feed the bacteria that produce VSCs and intensify smelly breath. Find out which drinks are the worst for your breath, plus one that can actually make your breath smell better.


Millions of people may love it, but most of us aren't so crazy about one unfortunate side effect: coffee breath. Coffee itself is high in offensive sulfur, which contributes to stinky breath.

If you thought swapping in tea was the answer, Health's contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, said to think again, "Too much caffeine can dry out your mouth, which increases odor, because saliva helps wash away bacteria and food particles that cause bad breath."


In an April 2018 study published in the journal Microbiome, researchers examined the bacterial profiles of spit samples from more than 1,000 healthy volunteers between the ages of 55 and 84. They found a higher concentration of "bad" bacteria linked to gum disease (a bad breath trigger) in volunteers who reported drinking alcohol. Bacterial differences between light drinkers and heavy drinkers increased with the amount of alcohol consumed, with heavy drinkers having the most "bad" bacteria.

On top of altering the bacteria in your mouth, "Alcohol can also trigger acid reflux, which causes stomach acid to creep up into the throat, and that acid has an odor," Sass added.

Carbonated Beverages

The acid that gives sodas and other bubbly beverages their fizz is another major player in bad breath development. Acidity dries out your mouth, which allows bacteria and food particles to linger, ultimately causing bad breath, Dr. Meinecke advised.

What To Drink To Fight Bad Breath

Good old H2O is your best option. Sass suggested getting into the habit of drinking a glass of water after every meal. "This can help wash away food particles that can contribute to bad breath."

Saliva is 99% water, Dr. Meinecke explained, so staying hydrated ensures you create plenty of the stuff, which is needed to keep your mouth clean and fresh. Water is also odorless and doesn't provide anything for bacteria to feed on, meaning they can't produce odorous VSCs. "As you drink water, it cleans off your tongue where those bacteria and their VSCs are trapped," Dr. Meinecke said.

If water is too boring for you, spice it up by adding some mint leaves for a burst of freshness. For an even tastier option, Dr. Meinecke recommended making an infusion. "Cut up a slice of watermelon, and put it in a jar with some basil leaves. Fill the jar with water, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours."

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