Sugar-Free Drinks and Sweets can Damage Your Teeth Just as Much as their Sugary Counterparts

Australian researchers have found that products with acidic additives and low pH levels harm teeth even if they are sugar-free. Even sugar-free sodas, sports drinks and candy can damage your teeth, a new study warns.


Chemical mix of acids

Australian researchers tested 23 sugar-free and sugar-containing products, including soft drinks and sports drinks, and found that some with acidic additives and low pH levels (a measure of acidity) harm teeth, even if they are sugar-free.

“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,” said Eric Reynolds, a laureate professor and CEO of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre at Melbourne University.

Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the tooth’s hard tissues. “In its early stages, erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. If it progresses to an advanced stage, it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth,” he explained in a university news release.

Reynolds and his colleagues found that most soft drinks and sports drinks caused dental enamel to soften by between 30 and 50 percent.

Both sugar-free and sugar-containing soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters caused measurable loss of the tooth surface.

Of the eight sports drinks tested, six caused loss of tooth enamel. The researchers also found that many sugar-free candies contain high levels of citric acid and can erode tooth enamel.

The main reasons behind all this enamel erosion? Citric and phosphoric acid. A natural preservative found in fruits like lemons and limes, citric acid is added to sugar-free drinks to add tanginess. But this addition, along with the presence of phosphoric acid, can spell trouble for your pearly whites. People with eroded enamel are more susceptible to bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay.

“Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. In its early stages, erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel,” Reynolds said in a statement. “If it progresses to an advanced stage, it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth.”

Sugar-free drinks aren’t the only culprits ruining your teeth either. The researchers also looked at sugar-free candies to see how damaging they could be to your teeth. Again, they found many of these candies contained citric acid or other acids that enhanced the lemon, lime or orange flavours. “Some of these actually claim to be tooth-friendly but consumers should be aware that their acidic ingredients make them potentially harmful to teeth,” Reynolds said.


Drink more water

Just because something is sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for teeth, Reynolds said.

The study highlights the need for better product labelling and consumer information to help people choose food and drinks that are safe for their teeth, he added.

Reynolds offered several tips to help you protect your teeth. Check product labels for acidic additives, especially citric acid and phosphoric acid.

Drink more water and fewer soft drinks and sports drinks. And finally, after consuming acidic food and drinks, rinse your mouth with water and wait an hour before brushing your teeth. Brushing immediately can remove the softened enamel, he said.