Can Sugar-Free Products Be Just As Harmful to Teeth as Sugary Ones?

For decades now, we’ve all seen commercials about how much better sugar-free soda is for us than the sugared stuff. Many of us have actively made a point to cut back on our sugar intake, and we’ve experienced great health benefits because of it. And while it is true that sugar-free products are better for our general health because they eliminate the sugar from our diet, unfortunately many of them are still bad for our teeth.

Yes, drinking and eating sugar-free products can reduce the risk of cavities, but most still contain high levels of acids that can:

  • Strip away the surface layers of tooth enamel and in advanced stages,
  • Expose the softer dentin (or pulp) of the tooth

Researchers at Melbourne University’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre used extracted healthy human molars that were free of cavities to test the effects of sugar-free products on teeth. The results showed that some of these products contain not just acids but also certain chemicals (called chelators) that bind other chemicals to calcium, creating a particularly erosive combination that’s harmful to teeth.

Sugar-free soft drinks

The study tested 15 soft drinks, including 3 sugar-free brands. It found that all the drinks produced significant erosion of dental enamel, resulting in measurable weight loss and surface loss of the healthy human molars they’d tested. In addition, there was no significant difference between the erosive potential of the sugared soft drinks and the sugar-free brands.

Sports drinks

The study also tested 8 brands of sports drinks and found similar results as with the soft drinks. Out of the 8, 6 of them caused significant enamel loss and enamel surface softening.

Sugar-free candy

The study found that the citric acid and other food acids used for flavoring sugar-free candies (particularly lemon, orange, and other fruit flavors) are risky for teeth.

So what can you eat or drink to minimize tooth erosion and decay?

Fluoridated tap water provides fluoride that bottled water doesn’t. Studies have shown up to a 40% reduction in cavities following community water fluoridation. Fluoride helps control and heal early signs of tooth decay.

Milk is a great non-erosive drink option as well.

Chewing sugar-free gum is still OK, especially after eating.  It helps to stimulate saliva production, which can help rinse away acids. It also helps re-harden softened enamel.

Visit your dentist regularly

At Soft Touch Dental in San Diego, we care about your teeth, and we’ll do everything we can to help protect them. During your regularly scheduled visits, we clean your teeth, provide fluoride treatment, and examine your teeth for significant changes. The sooner we can catch any enamel loss, the better chances we have of addressing the problem before it leads to other problems.  In some cases of enamel loss, we may recommend changes in your diet or toothpaste. We might also suggest chewing sugar-free gum after meals. If the enamel loss is significant, we may discuss dental sealants or crowns to protect the tooth from decay.

Whatever your teeth need, we’re here to make sure you get it. But we can’t do it without your help. It’s important that you schedule and keep your regular appointments so we can help you keep your teeth in tip-top shape.