Long associated with feelings of cleanliness, purity, health, renewal, and empowerment, the practice of fasting helps many individuals feel closer to the divine or experience a greater sense of control over their health and lifestyle choices.
So it’s ironic that something as positive as fasting is often accompanied by something as mundane and embarrassing as bad breath.
Do you practice fasting? You’re probably keen to find out what causes bad breath during fasting and what you can do to prevent it so that you can enjoy the benefits of fasting free from the fear of bad breath.
The Connection Between Fasting and Bad Breath
On the surface, halitosis may not seem like a serious problem. The topic of bad breath even provides comical fuel for cartoons, films, and stand-up comedy acts.
But bad breath isn’t always a laughing matter. Anxiety over how your body smells can harm your self-image and social status.
Whether for medical or spiritual reasons, fasting is a common practice for people all over the world, which makes stinky ‘hunger breath’ a concern for many.
Who Can Get Fasting Bad Breath?
Let’s begin by looking at which groups may be at risk of experiencing bad breath from fasting.
People who practice intermittent fasting
‘Hunger breath’ is quite familiar to those who practice intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting usually involves going for several hours without food each day (also known as time-restricted eating) or abstaining from food for certain days each week. During those times of zero calorie intake, fasters could be susceptible to experiencing bouts of bad breath from fasting.
People following the keto diet
‘Keto breath,’ or ‘ketosis breath,’ is a common side-effect of following a keto diet. While not a strict fast, this fat- and protein-centered diet aims to trigger a state of ketosis, which happens when the body prioritizes fat for energy instead of glucose. When a person achieves true ketosis, the fat-metabolizing process releases acetone as a byproduct, which gives the breath a fruity, chemical odor.
People who fast for religious purposes
Fasting is an integral part of the spiritual welfare of billions of humans across the world. These people may be quite familiar with the experience of having bad breath while they fast.
Depending on the specific creed, some people fast to demonstrate devotion or repentance, attain purity, commemorate an event, practice self-denial, or invite a meditative state.
Here are some religions that require or encourage fasting and some examples of the occasions on which members fast:
- Catholicism (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday)
- The Latter-day Saints movement (24-hour fast on the first Sunday of each month)
- Islam (Ramadan)
- Baháʼí (sunrise to sunset fasting during the Baháʼí month of Alá)
- Judaism (Yom Kippur, Tish B’Av)
- Buddhism (time-restricted eating from dawn to noon)
- Hinduism (the Mahashivaratri festival)
Why Does Fasting Cause Bad Breath?
What exactly is it about hunger that causes bad breath? Several possible factors may be at play. Let’s break them down one at a time.
1. Poor oral hygiene
Bad breath is most commonly caused by smelly gasses called “volatile sulfur compounds” that are released by bacteria living in the mouth. Studies suggest that 80 to 90 percent of bad breath cases originate in the mouth. You can keep odor-causing bacteria in check by cleaning your teeth, gums, and tongue every day regardless of whether you fast.
It’s also important to clean dental prostheses every day. If you wear a denture and don’t clean it properly, it can grow stinky bacterial plaque or trigger a smelly yeast infection, both of which can cause bad breath.
2. Oral disease
Bad breath — while fasting or otherwise — can be a sign of gum disease. A study published in the Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry found that the signs of periodontal disease were “significantly related to oral malodor.”
3. Dry mouth
What if your mouth is healthy and your oral hygiene routine is stellar, but you still have funky breath while fasting? Dry mouth (xerostomia) is the next most likely cause. When you fast, your body stops producing the saliva you need to digest food. Saliva also washes away food particles, prevents bacterial growth, and neutralizes acids. Without sufficient saliva, odor-producing bacteria can grow unchecked during fasting hours and make your breath smell bad.
4. Diet and nutrition
Some foods like garlic and onions have strong-smelling sulfuric compounds that contribute to mouth odor. They can circulate in your body and make your breath stink later when you exhale.
As discussed earlier, following the keto diet is another possible cause of diet-related bad breath because ketosis creates a metabolic change that releases acetone fumes into the bloodstream.
5. Tobacco use
Tobacco smoke and other ingredients in tobacco products can cause bad breath that lingers for a long time. When you go without eating for several hours straight, saliva production slows down, your mouth dries out, and the lingering tobacco odors become more difficult to hide.
6. Health conditions
Although bad breath normally originates directly in the mouth, it can also signal a problem elsewhere in the body. For example, sinus infections, throat infections, acid reflux, kidney disease, diabetes, and liver problems can all cause bad breath that becomes more noticeable when you’re in a fasted state.
How to Prevent Bad Breath While Fasting
Preparation is key to preventing bad breath while fasting.
Depending on the nature and requirements of your fast, you may not be able to brush your teeth, chew sugar-free gum, or drink water during the fasting hours. These methods are effective ways to combat hunger breath, but they aren’t possible for everyone who fasts.
Your best bet may be to stay ahead of bad breath by paying attention to your diet and hygiene during non-fasting hours.
The tips below will help you keep your mouth feeling fresh and your breath smelling sweet while you fast.
Practice great oral hygiene
You may eat much less than usual during a fast, but your teeth and gums still need adequate care and attention. Brush and floss your teeth before and after a fasting period and clean your tongue with a tongue scraper. Use an alcohol-free mouthwash at the end of your routine to prepare your breath for a fast.
Brush your teeth for two to three minutes, half an hour after eating
Don’t forget to brush your teeth after your last meal before you start your fast! Wait for half an hour before you brush. This practice will give your saliva a chance to neutralize acids and bacteria before you brush away the solid debris and help your mouth feel fresh at the beginning of your fast.
Again, if you’re able to sip on water during your fast, do so often to help replenish your saliva and keep your mouth fresh and comfortable. Even just swishing your mouth with water can help a lot, even if you can’t swallow it. If you don’t drink water during fasting hours, drink plenty of water during your scheduled eating window.
Avoid smelly foods
Say “no” to foods with a strong odor during your mealtime window. Items like garlic, onions, leeks, certain spices, coffee, and fish can make your breath smell icky for hours, so pass on those if you want to have fresh breath while fasting.
It can be tempting to boost your energy levels during a fast by sipping on caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a diuretic that can dehydrate you quickly, however, leaving you with a dry and stinky mouth during your fast. Instead of caffeine-rich tea or coffee, rehydrate with water or a drink with a lower caffeine content such as green tea.
Keep salty, sugary, and junky foods to a minimum
High-sodium foods can dry out your mouth, and sugary sweets can leave traces of carbohydrates in your mouth that fuel the growth of odor-releasing bacteria. Reach for whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables instead to promote healthy saliva production and discourage bacterial growth.
If you use tobacco, make it a goal to quit so you can enjoy fresher breath at all times, whether or not you’re fasting.
Visit a doctor
If your fasting breath remains foul no matter what you do, plan a visit to your local dentist for a checkup. You could have gingivitis, tooth decay, or another kind of infection in your mouth that’s causing bad breath. If the problem isn’t dental-related, then you may need to speak with your doctor.
Bad Breath and Fasting: A Summary
Fasting often results in a feeling of personal accomplishment and a sense of unity with fellow fasters. Don’t let bad breath distract you from getting the most out of this enriching experience! It is possible to have fresh breath during your fast so that you can go about your life with confidence.
Remember, these tips can help you prevent bad breath when fasting.
- Practice good oral hygiene.
- Stay hydrated.
- Skip salt, sugar, and caffeine during non-fasting hours.
- Avoid tobacco use.
These practices can help you keep your breath fresh so that you can fast without feeling stressed about the way your breath smells. If you’re worried that unpleasant breath odor could be a sign of a serious problem, however, contact your dentist or doctor to schedule a checkup.