Can Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks Damage Your Teeth?

Can Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks Damage Your Teeth

One of the best ways to prevent tooth decay from cavities is to limit the amount of sugary foods you consume. Switching to sugar-free treats and beverages is a good way to cut down on excess sugar, but those no-sugar foods may actually be just as bad for your teeth as their sweet counterparts.

How Sugar-Free Foods Affect Your Teeth

An Australian oral health study revealed a link between popular sugar substitutes used in many sugar-free foods and beverages and dental erosion. Dental erosion occurs when surface layers of enamel – the hard outer layer of the tooth – are stripped away. In advanced stages, dental erosion can expose the softer dentin or even the pulp of the tooth.

Unlike cavities, which are caused by sugar and sugar-loving bacteria, dental erosion is caused by repeated exposure to acids in foods and drinks. This includes soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit juices. Many sugar-free products contain acidic additives that can slowly dissolve the hard tissues of the tooth. Research findings indicate that the longer these acids stay on the teeth – in slow-melting candies, for example—the greater the risk of erosion.

Erosion causes the following changes in teeth:

  • chalkiness on the surface of the teeth,
  • pitting,
  • opacity,
  • tooth sensitivity, and
  • scalloping of the biting surface of the teeth that in some cases can expose fillings.

Dental erosion can also increase the risk of cavities. Early dental erosion can be treated by a dentist with fluoride and an easily absorbable form of calcium and phosphate. For more advanced erosion, the lost surface of the tooth may need a filling or a crown.

How to Prevent Tooth Erosion

  • Be aware of acid content – Check product labels for acids – like ascorbic, citric and phosphoric acids – that are commonly found in sweetened and unsweetened foods and beverages. Acidic additives, like sorbitol and xylitol, can cause oral pH levels to fall to a point where dental erosion can occur. Most sour-tasting and fruit-flavored products contain acids that pose a high risk for dental erosion, while flavors like peppermint, spearmint, butterscotch, or chocolate tend to be less acidic.
  • Drink more water and fewer soft drinks.
  • Rinse, don’t brush after consuming acidic food and drinks. Wait an hour before brushing your teeth after eating or drinking something acidic. Brushing immediately can remove the softened enamel. Rinse with water instead.
  • Chew sugar-free gum – Chewing gum can stimulate saliva flow, help wash away acids, and re-harden softened enamel.
  • Have regular dental check-ups. Regular visits to your dentist will help you catch the effects of acid erosion before they’ve become too advanced. Your dentist can also help reverse acid erosion on your teeth with a re-mineralizing treatment to replace lost calcium.

If you’re showing any signs of tooth erosion, or are concerned about the effects of acidic foods on your teeth, make an appointment with us today. We will assess your risk for tooth decay and help you prevent and reverse its effects.

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