a plate of keto food

The “keto” diet is a popular type of low-carbohydrate, high-fat and high-protein diet that many people use to lose weight fast. It is important to understand that any drastic change in your diet will affect your dental health. 

How the Keto Diet Works

The word “keto” is short for ketogenic, which describes diets that put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.  In general, the human body is designed to burn carbohydrates for energy. When carbohydrates aren’t available, the next source of fuel for energy is fat.  As the body burns fat for energy, it creates molecules called ketones as a by-product.

Too many ketones in the body can be dangerous, so most doctors recommend using these diets as short-term options only.  Some people adapt relatively quickly to a state of ketosis, but others do not. You must be careful when purposefully changing your body’s metabolic state.

While a keto diet is a good way to burn some extra fat, it can be harmful to some people.  If you are opting for a keto diet, make sure you consult with your doctor to ensure it won’t adversely affect your overall health.

How the Keto Diet Affects Dental Health

Since keto diets are low- to no-carb diets, they are actually pretty good for your teeth.  Carbohydrates, especially the simple ones like refined sugars in sodas, sweets, chips, and crackers, are the favored fuel source of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.  These bacteria can use complex carbohydrates, but it takes longer for them to break down the larger molecules.  They like simple sugars as a fast and easy source of fuel. 

The way these bacteria form cavities is by ingesting the simple carbs and creating acids as a by-product.  This acid, when it sticks to the tooth in the bacteria-containing dental plaque, softens and weakens enamel.  That’s how bacteria get inside a tooth in the cavity process.

Since keto diets drastically reduce the fuel for cavity-causing bacteria, they are actually good for your teeth.  They even lower your risk for cavities.

How the Keto Diet Affects Your Breath

One of the phenomena associated with ketosis is something called “keto breath.”  When a ketogenic diet leads to an abundance of ketones in the body, your body’s two mechanisms of excretion (getting rid of them) is through exhalation and urination.  These ketone molecules have a very distinct smell, so you may notice a change in both your breath and your urine. 

Some people describe keto breath as having a sickly sweet smell, and others notice a smell more similar to acetone (think really strong nail polish remover). 

This change in your breath is a red flag that your body is in a state of ketosis.  Like we said, for many people, this is no problem. But for others, it can be dangerous.  Just make sure your body can handle being forced into a different state of metabolism before you stick with this diet.

Because this type of “bad” breath does not originate in the mouth, but instead in the molecules released into your lungs, there isn’t much you can do about it.  Mouthwashes or breath sprays will only cover it up. We recommend avoiding any products with alcohol, which have a drying effect and will actually make your breath worse.  Make sure you stay well-hydrated, so you don’t compound a dry mouth on top of keto breath.

What’s the Takeaway?

Keto diets are a great short-term diet option for healthy people.  You must check with your doctor to make sure your body can handle being put into ketosis.  Your teeth will not suffer any damage, but your breath might.