Scrapping added sugars from your diet can benefit your health and decrease your risk for obesity, but swapping them for calorie-free, artificially sweetened alternatives might not work. And according to new research, fake sweeteners might not benefit your dental health, either.
It's widely accepted that sugar can wreak havoc on your choppers: Mouth bacteria uses sugar to make acids, which erode and damage the teeth. A recent study from the University of Melbourne's Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre confirmed that sugar-free foods and drinks can cause significant damage to tooth enamel, too. Researchers found that sugar-free drinks like Diet Coke can soften enamel by 30 to 50 percent.
The researchers tested 23 different kinds of beverages, including sodas and performance drinks, finding that drinks with acidic additives and low pH levels can damage the enamel, regardless of whether it contains sugar or not. Teeth with eroded enamel are at higher risk to bacterial infection and, thus, tooth decay.
"Many people are not aware that while reducing your sugar intake does reduce your risk of dental decay, the chemical mix of acids in some foods and drinks can cause the equally damaging condition of dental erosion," professor Eric Reynolds, one of the study authors and the CEO of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre, said in a statement.
Dental erosion happens when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth, Reynolds explained.
"In its early stages erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. If it progresses to an advanced stage it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth," he said.
Scientists say citric acid and phosphoric acid are often the culprits — so be sure to check labels for these acids, which are often used in sodas for "tanginess," according to the researchers.
Sugar-free foods like lollipops and other candies can have these ingredients as well. The researchers tested 32 commercially available sugar-free candies, finding fruit-flavored confections to cause more damage that mint and menthol-containing ones.
Interestingly, many of these products have labels that indicate they are sugar free for healthy teeth. "Many sugar-free confections, even some with 'toothfriendly' certification, contain high levels of citric acid and have erosive potential," the researchers wrote in their study.
To maintain a healthy smile, the researchers suggest limiting your intake of these kinds of foods and drinks. When you do indulge, swish tap water around your mouth to harden the enamel before brushing, which helps protect against damage from brushing too hard.