By now, patients of Tigard family dentist Dr. Greg Williams know the danger diets high in sugar present to the long-term health of their teeth and gums. Plaque – a harmful bacteria that thrives in our mouths – uses the sugars we consume to produce harmful acids that slowly erode away tooth enamel. Diets high in sugar provide the ever present plaque in our mouths with ample fuel to cause lasting damage to our oral health. While sugar may pose a risk to the health of our teeth and gums, a desire to enjoy something sweet makes it hard for most people to avoid sugar entirely.
For decades, sugar-free products have helped satisfy our sweet tooth without the calories or the risks of decay. But the results of a new study now call into question whether carrying a sugar-free label actually makes a product tooth-friendly. Researchers are now warning that sugar-free drinks and desserts could be just as damaging to your oral health as those containing real sugar.
Sugar-Free Doesn’t Mean Risk-Free
As part of their study, researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Center tested 23 different types of sugar-free beverages, including sports drinks and soft drinks, and discovered that brands with low pH levels containing acidic additives caused measurable damage to tooth enamel – even if the drinks contained no actual sugar.
While we’ve already covered the link between sugar and tooth decay, what’s lesser known is why acidic beverages can also pose a risk to our oral health, with or without sugar.
Plaque converts sugar into acid that attacks tooth enamel. It’s the acid that attacks teeth by eroding away the outer layer of tooth enamel that covers the delicate center of our teeth. If acid is the primary culprit contributing to tooth decay, it only makes sense that drinking beverages with a high acid content can also erode teeth.
A New View of Tooth Decay
The dental community has generally agreed that the use of sugar substitutes – such as mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol, for example – have greatly contributed to the reduction in tooth decay rates among children in developing countries around the world.
However, the results of this study now call that assumption into question, and has led researchers to caution consumers that consuming sugar-free products could by harmful to teeth due to their chemical composition.
The study highlights data that shows a measurable softening of dental enamel and the loss of tooth surface following exposure to a range of beverages.
The study also found that most soft drinks and sports drinks led to softening of dental enamel by between 1/3 to 1/2. The study also shows that both sugary and sugar-free drinks – including mineral water – cause a measurable loss of tooth enamel, with no significant difference existing between the two types of beverages.
Additionally, 6 of the 8 types of sports beverages tested in the study caused the loss of tooth enamel.
If you have questions about the beverages you’re consuming, be sure to ask Dr. Greg Williams at your next appointment!