Added sugar is a health hazard. Not only can sugar be incredibly harmful for those with insulin resistance, but the extra calories of sugar-laden junk foods is one of the primary drivers of weight gain and tooth decay. For this reason, sugar-free alternatives, such as artificial sweeteners and diet drinks, are often perceived as “guilt-free”. While they are definitely an improvement, new research has found alternative sweeteners still rot your teeth.
A recent study by the Oral Health CRC found that artificial sweeteners can cause the same level of tooth decay as sugar-sweetened products.
This is due to the pH level (or acid content) of the product, which ranges from 0 to 14. Seven is neutral, higher than 7 is alkaline and lower than 7 is acidic.
Most soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters and sports drinks are acidic in nature, with the pH of some hovering around 2.5. As a comparison, stomach acid has a pH of around 2 in order to break down food.
By dissolving 1 gram of sugar-free confections – which included three sugar-free soft drinks – into water, researchers showed they produce a cocktail of acidic compounds. These include phosphoric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, citric acid and tartaric acid.
This is why sugar-free drinks and foods decrease the pH of our saliva. Once the acidic saliva comes into contact with the protective dental enamel on your teeth, it begins to soften and break down.
With proper care, softened enamel can be re-hardened, but once it’s lost, it cannot be regenerated.
Sugar-free is not a free pass
Artificially sweetened can be a good alternative to regular products, but these products are not a free pass.
Besides their ability to rot your teeth, sweeteners are also linked to complications with type 2 diabetes, weight gain and other metabolic problems.
The researchers recommend not to brush your teeth immediately after drinking acidic products in order to protect the softened layer of enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water and wait one hour before brushing.
Just like any other junk food, sugar-free products should be seen as a treat and not an everyday addition to your diet. – Joe Leech