The skinny on dieting and your teeth

Embarking on a new diet? You’ve probably got your waistline, not your teeth, in mind. But weight-loss diets can have a major impact on your oral health. Find out how popular dieting strategies can affect your mouth.

Low-fat diet

Eating a diet low in fat can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K. Vitamin D is especially important for oral health — it helps the body absorb calcium. When your body can’t absorb calcium, your teeth and bones start to break down.

What’s more, fat helps your brain produce dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that improves your mood. When your diet lacks omega-3 fatty acids, your stress and anxiety will increase. Stress can lead to tooth grinding (bruxism) and can worsen pain from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).

Finally, manufacturers often add sugar to reduced-fat products to maintain taste and texture. That added sugar means a higher chance of cavities.

Low-carb and ketogenic diets

When you’re on a low- or no-carb diet, one way you can tell it’s working is if your breath starts to smell like nail polish remover. The unique scent of acetone — or sometimes rotten fruit — is a tell-tale sign of ketosis, the process in which your body starts burning fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel, releasing chemicals called ketones.

You can get rid of keto-breath by drinking more water, brushing your teeth and tongue regularly and chewing on natural breath fresheners like parsley and mint. Not surprisingly, though, the most effective way to freshen your breath again is by eating carbs. And that may not be a bad idea, considering high levels of ketones can induce ketoacidosis, an illness in which your blood levels grow dangerously acidic. An overload of ketones can also make your body start to burn muscle instead of fat, cause intense fatigue and even damage your heart.

Low-calorie diet

Cutting calories may be an effective way to lose weight, but reducing your food intake too much can wreak havoc on your health, since it depletes your body of necessary minerals and vitamins. Malnutrition is bad news all around, but for your mouth it can mean a weakened jawbone (causing your teeth to move or fall out), softened enamel (increasing your chance of cavities) and deficient gums (making you vulnerable to gum disease).

Fruit detox

It may seem harmless to survive on only fruits — and maybe vegetables — for a week or so, but such a limited diet can have consequences for your mouth and body. Besides the effects of malnutrition, the high levels of sugar and acid in most fruits can damage your enamel, leaving your teeth and gums vulnerable to decay and infection.

Diet pills

By cutting down your salivary flow, diet pills leave you with a dry mouth and host of oral health problems. Saliva is a natural defense against decay. Not only does it contain cavity-fighting chemicals, it also helps physically wash away food and bacteria. With a drier mouth, you’re more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Before you jump into a new diet, consult your doctor and dentist.

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Published October 2015

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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