Fasting, paleo, and low-carb diets are an important health practice for some people. But a common side effect of the weight loss from a low-carb diet is bad breath (often called keto breath), caused by a process called ketosis. You’re not going to give up on your diet, of course, so what’s the solution?
What Causes Keto Breath on a Low-Carb or Paleo Diet
First of all, you’re not alone. Most people on some form of low carbohydrate diet tend to have worse breath than those who use other methods of dieting. This is mainly due to the food low-carb dieters are now eating and how those foods are reacting in the body.
Low-carb diets work by limiting the amount of carbs entering the body, so your body must then look to stored fat for fuel. When your body burns this stored fat, a certain chemical called ketone is made. Ketone exits the body in two ways: through urine and through your mouth. This “keto breath” is what causes bad breath when you’re eating low-carb or paleo, or fasting.
Certain foods are also to blame. High-protein foods produce more sulfur when broken down into particles. These particles tend to stay on your tongue and in your mouth longer, especially while you’re asleep, or if you don’t brush in between meals. Because your mouth doesn’t produce saliva when you’re asleep (and for good reason!), these sulfur compounds build up overnight and can really give your partner a wake-up call in the morning when you roll over for a good-morning kiss! An easy way to combat this (and hack your sleep at the same time): mouth taping.
Bad Breath Causes Beyond Diet
Certain lifestyle changes we make to lose weight or get healthy can also be the culprit of bad breath. Most common are the below.
Skipping meals: Without anything to chew, saliva production slows down and sulfurs build up, causing that rotten egg smell.
Exercise: Exercise can dry up your mouth, allowing sulfur to build up.
How to Combat Keto Breath From a Paleo or Low-Carb Diet
- Drink plenty of water: Among the many benefits of drinking water over other liquids, water also helps wash away plaque and bacteria. Since it’s not always possible to brush after every meal, drinking water continuously can help flush out any food or bacteria build-up in your mouth.
- Pop a piece of sugarless gum: Any sugarless gum that contains xylitol will help chase away bad breath as well as cavities. When you chew, your mouth produces more saliva, which helps break down plaque, bacteria, and acid in your mouth. Like water, it also rinses your teeth. The xylitol can actually help block the bacteria that cause cavities as well. Make sure your gum does not have artificial sweeteners. I don’t chew gum, but lots of my patients and family do. PUR gum is what I always recommend because it contains xylitol, and doesn’t contain a lot of the junky ingredients you find in gum. It also tastes like “normal” gum.
- Pack a toothbrush: There’s nothing wrong with popping into the office bathroom for a quick brush after lunch, or in between snacks. I use these snap-on sanitizers for my toothbrushes, which I keep stashed in the center console of my car, my briefcase, my workout bag, and in my work desk drawer—I’m never without a toothbrush for a quick dry brush in between meals (no toothpaste, no sink required!) Bacteria thrive on the tongue so give it a good brush as well.
- Oil pulling is the ideal after meal treatment as it does not removal enamel as it neutralizes acids and helps reinforce the natural oral microbiome.
- Tongue scraping: You can physically remove sulphuric compounds by scraping your tongue. (This is the tongue scraper I use at home).
- Mouth tape: Many of us sleep with our mouths open (refer to the drool on your pillow for confirmation of this, or just ask a sleep partner). When you sleep with your mouth open, the mouth dries out, and you interfere with saliva production. Mouth taping during sleep is a great way to keep up saliva production for a large portion of your day. This is the mouth tape that I use every night before bed.
You can still diet and keep bad breath at bay—it’s just going to require some tweaks to your routine. Of course, if the above suggestions don’t work, your bad breath might not be diet-related, and you should visit your dentist to rule out other conditions that could be the underlying cause.
Dr. Mark Burhenne
Got more questions about diet and its effects on oral health? Ask me a question!Learn More: Why Paleo People Didn’t Need Dental Check-Ups, But You Do