Even sugar-free drinks can damage teeth, study finds
Dentists have been touting the benefits of reducing sugary drinks for decades. But did you know that focusing on sugar content may not be enough? It turns out that acidity is equally important and that drinks with both no sugar and low acidity are your safest best.
Long gone are the days of Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine advice that simply said to brush after consuming sugary candies. Instead, we now know that avoiding sugar isn’t the entire solution. You also need to avoid acidic food and drink.
Researchers at the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, tested 23 different types of sugar-free drinks – including soft drinks and sports drinks – and found those that contain acidic additives and those with low pH levels cause measurable damage to tooth enamel, even if they have no sugar.
Part of the misunderstanding comes from the population not knowing how or why sugar is so bad for the teeth. It’s not sugar on its own that damages teeth, but the plaque left on the teeth by sugar. Bacteria feed on that plaque, and acidity is a byproduct of the bacteria. The result is higher acidity, and it’s the acidity that leads to tooth enamel erosion. After time, the enamel can erode to a point that the soft pulp inside the tooth is exposed.
Oral health experts generally agree that sugar substitutes like xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol in sweets and drinks has helped to reduce tooth decay in children in industrialized countries. These are the primary sweeteners found in sugar-free gums bearing the seal of approval from the American Dental Association (ADA).
But just because a beverage is sugar-free, don’t assume your teeth are safe. The new research indicated that the majority of soft drinks and sports drinks led to softening of dental enamel by between a third and a half. This includes flavored mineral waters which have become popular in recent years. Of the 8 sugar-free sports drinks tested, only the 2 higher in calcium content didn’t contribute to enamel erosion.
So when labels are misleading by denoting a product is tooth-friendly when it’s really just sugar-free, the researchers suggest people check for acidic additives, such as citric acid and phosphoric acid, in the ingredients list when deciding which sugar-free products to buy. Avoiding these acidic additives will help ensure enamel stays intact.
After eating or drinking acidic products, you also shouldn’t brush immediately. Instead, swish with water and wait and hour to brush so as not to brush away softened enamel. Using a soft-bristled brush is essential, as is the use of toothpaste containing fluoride. Electric toothbrushes may be recommended by your dentist.
Chewing sugarless gum is still recommended, as it creates salivary flow that helps rid the mouth of excess acid. We have several patients who buy flavored sugarless gums and treat their gum as a dessert course. That’s a great idea for your waistline, your taste buds, and your teeth!
And if you’re going to have a soda, don’t drink it when you’re thirsty. Instead, drink water first and then follow with a soda once your saliva stores have been replenished. Of course, regular check-ups with Dr. Shields and the team at Smiles by Shields will help monitor the condition of your tooth enamel and help provide solutions when enamel is damaged.
To maintain proper oral health, it’s important to always:
- Brush twice daily with a soft-bristled brush
- Use a toothpaste containing fluoride
- Rinse with a gentle mouthwash
- Floss daily to remove debris stuck between teeth
- Visit Smiles by Shields every 6 months for your cleanings
- See Dr. Shields annually for an oral exam and for evaluation of your x-rays
- Avoid sugary, starchy, and acidic foods
- Drink plenty of water and enjoy foods high in calcium for remineralization
An, as always, contact Smiles by Shields with any questions, new developments, or abnormalities you may be experiencing in relation to your oral health.
Paddock, C. (2015, November 30). “Some sugar-free drinks can also damage teeth, experts warn.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from