Much to the chagrin of parents everywhere, the tooth-friendly promise of sugar-free products may indeed be too good to be true. Research suggests that sugar-free drinks and candies may damage teeth as much as their sugary counterparts. Flavorings used in sugar-free products often contain high-acid ingredients, such as phosphoric acid and citric acid, that can erode the outer protective layer (the enamel) of the tooth. Researchers from the University of Melbourne published the findings in a report from the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre. In their experiments, they exposed donated human molars to 23 different drinks including sugary and sugar-free sodas, sports drinks, and milk drinks as well as water for comparison. Following exposure to the beverages, the teeth were analyzed for several markers of tooth damage, such as changes in calcium levels and enamel loss. In addition, the researchers tested 32 sugar-free candies, including lollipops, mints, and lozenges, to understand their potential to cause dental erosion. Here is what the researchers found:
The sugar-free sodas caused as much dental erosion as the sodas that contained sugar.
Six of the eight sports drinks caused a statistically significant amount of erosion compared with water. However, two sports drinks with higher calcium content caused less erosion than the other six sports drinks.
Twenty-two of the sugar-free candies had acid levels that could have potentially cause erosion. Fruit-flavored candies were more acidic than candies flavored with mint or menthol.
Further testing on donated teeth confirmed that sugar-free candies caused enamel loss and tooth softening.
This research is important for public health, as dental erosion can cause changes in tooth color, shape, sensitivity, and strength, and can eventually lead to tooth deterioration, cracking, and loss. If you do indulge in acidic drinks or snacks occasionally, rinse your teeth afterwards with clean water and postpone brushing your teeth for an hour or so to avoid further damaging your weakened enamel. And, of course, drinking water instead of flavored drinks, and getting regular dental care, will help keep your chompers healthy.
Source: Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre