Why ‘sugar free’ isn’t necessarily better for your teeth

Bristol dentist Cornelius Krause, like most other dentists, spends much of his time at work advising patients to avoid sugary foods and drinks, because of the damage that sugar can do to your teeth. Heeding this advice, many people switch to ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’ options, in an effort to improve their dental health.

Unfortunately, however, new research has uncovered that these sugar-free products are often nearly as bad for your teeth as the sugar-laden alternatives, as it is not just sugar that causes tooth enamel to be eroded.

The research

The study was performed by a team of researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre.

The team tested 23 different beverages, including fizzy drinks and so-called ‘energy’ drinks, and found that drinks with low pH levels and containing acidic additives can cause damage to tooth enamel, regardless of the sugar content.

Thirty-two different types of sugar-free confectionary (sweets and lollipops) were also tested, with similar results. Interestingly, they found that fruit-flavoured sweets caused more damage than other flavours.

Why does erosion matter?

The thing most people are concerned about when it comes to their dental health is tooth decay, so it’s easy to overlook erosion as a problem. Sadly, however, as the tooth enamel gets eroded away, the tooth becomes more vulnerable to bacterial infection, which in turn can ultimately lead to 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.

What can we do to avoid tooth decay?

According to the scientists, citric acid and phosphoric acid are the worst culprits when it comes to dental erosion, and these are commonly used in fizzy drinks or fruit-flavoured sweets to add ‘tanginess’, so avoid products containing these ingredients.

Here at CK Dental practice in Bristol, we advise our patients to avoid all sweets and fizzy drinks as much as possible, whether or not they contain sugar. If you can’t cut them out of your diet all together, try to drink water immediately afterwards, being sure to swill it around your mouth in order to wash the acids off your teeth, and brush your teeth half an hour later – any earlier could cause more damage to the tooth enamel.