This should come as no surprise – sugar is bad for your teeth. It was probably one of the first lessons you learned about health as a child. You remember, the big bad plague monster that could be defeated only by toothpaste?
Sugar acts like an acid by dissolving the enamel on your teeth. Each time you eat sugar, the resulting acid can continue to attack your teeth for up to 20 minutes. The naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth use the sugar as energy to multiply and stick themselves to the surface of a tooth, causing a plaque buildup.
Then how about artificial sweeteners? Those can’t be as bad for our teeth, right? Not exactly.
Although these artificial sweeteners can be free of sugar, they are still highly acidic. The resulting acid wears away at the enamel just as it does with sugar. There are all types of conflicting reports about the effects of artificial sugar on your smile. A recent controversial study by the Academy of General Dentistry went as far as saying that an addiction to diet soda can do as much damage to your teeth as a methamphetamine or cocaine addiction.
However, avoiding or limiting the amount of sweeteners we consume is easier said than done. A food label doesn’t have to say “Sugar” or “Splenda” for these ingredients to be included in your food. In reality, sugars – or artificial sweeteners – can often be found hiding under one if their many aliases.
Artificial Sweeteners – synthetic sugar substitutes derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself
• Acesulfame potassium
• Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
• Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet ‘n Low)
• Sucralose (Splenda)
Sugar Alcohols – carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but can also be manufactured
• Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate
Novel Sweeteners – combinations of various types of sweeteners
• Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia)
• Tagatose (Naturlose)
Natural Sweeteners – naturally occurring sugar substitutes
• Agave nectar
• Date sugar
• Fruit juice
• Maple syrup
As we mentioned, it’s seemingly impossible to completely avoid sugars. The ingredients listed above are found in products we use every day – including your toothpaste and mouthwash.
So what can we do to fight back?
If you drink a citrus juice or soda, use a straw to reduce the contact with your teeth. Also, rinse your mouth and teeth with water after consuming sugar to stop the acids from wearing away at the enamel of your teeth. A tooth paste and mouth rinse with fluoride can also reduce erosion.
From the list above, the doctor’s recommended alternative sweeter is Xylitol, a natural sweetener derived from the fibrous parts of plants. The bacteria in the mouth cannot digest Xylitol like it can sugar, so it does not cause the same acid attack. More information on the dental benefits of Xylitol can be found here.
Remember, teeth are one of the few things in the body which cannot regenerate. Take care of your teeth to keep your smile beautiful for decades to come!