It’s common knowledge that sugar can cause cavities and rot teeth. Still, there are a handful of myths floating around the internet that may not necessarily be true. In this post we aim to debunk common myths about Sugar-Free products. If you’re looking for a paediatric dental check up at any time contact Specialist Kids Dentist to book an appointment.
Are Sugar-free Products Completely Safe for Your Teeth?
We all know that regular soft drinks are high in sugar content. Sugar hurt teeth by feeding decay-causing bacteria in the mouth. When these bacteria eat the sugar, they produce acid. This eats away at the tooth enamel causing poor oral hygiene and oral health problems. Both baby teeth and permanent teeth can suffer damage if sugary drinks are consumed in excess.
Does this mean that sugar-free versions of soft drinks are completely safe to consume? Unfortunately, NO ! Both sugar containing and sugar-free soft drinks (including flavoured mineral waters) are high in citric acid (ingredient number 330). They are also high in phosphoric acid (ingredient number 338) which is a major cause of tooth erosion.
Drinking high-acid drinks simply cuts out the middle man (AKA bacteria). Rather than bacteria generating acid, the teeth are bathing in acid and are eroded across their whole surfaces. These acids wear down tooth enamel and lead to cavities. In its early stages, erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. In advanced stages it can expose the softer dentine or even the soft centre (or “pulp”) of the tooth.
Energy and sports drinks (especially the sugar-free version) are surely better for your teeth than soft drinks? Unfortunately, both are still harmful to your teeth and can cause damage if not consumed in moderation. Research has found that exposure to energy drinks such as Monster®, and Red Bull® resulted in twice as much enamel loss as exposure to sports drinks such as Powerade® and Gatorade®. Acidity of energy drinks was found to be two times higher than it was for sport drinks. Most energy drinks, with a pH of roughly 3.2, are almost as acidic as battery acid which has a pH of 1.
The lower the pH, the greater the potential for losing enamel from your teeth. Your saliva is roughly a pH of 6.8 or 7, which is considered neutral. Even a small sip of a highly acidic drink can send your saliva’s pH plummeting on the pH scale. It takes the human body approximately 30 minutes to buffer the saliva back to a normal pH. For those 30 minutes, your teeth are essentially bathed in acid. Most people don’t drink responsibly when consuming energy or sports drinks. Instead, they continue to finish the can, bottle, or glass very quickly.
One in three children have signs of dental erosion. Because the eroded tooth enamel is more prone to bacteria, this makes it more susceptible to tooth decay.
How to avoid tooth erosion and decay:
The obvious solution? Stop drinking acidic beverages entirely. If you cannot seem to kick your sugar habit entirely, you can do the following tasks. Doing these will help you to reduce the risk of damaging your teeth:
- Drink more water: (preferably fluoridated) and limit soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Fluoride is added to public water supplies in much of Australia to reduce tooth decay. However, the majority of bottled water on the market do not contain optimal levels (0.7-1.2 part per million) of fluoride. The fluoride level in your bottled water can vary greatly by brand.
- Drink quickly: The faster you drink, the less sugars and acids will damage your teeth. Your saliva will have a better chance to neutralize pH in your mouth quickly.
- Use a straw: This will help keep the damaging acids and sugars away from your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with water after eating sweets or lollies and wait 30-60 minutes before you brush your teeth. Flushing your mouth with some water after drinking acidic beverages will help wash away any remaining sugars and acids. Doing this will stop sugars and acids from attacking your teeth and causing tooth decay.
Brushing immediately after you have an acidic drink can remove the recently acid attacked softened tooth layer.
- Avoid acidic drinks before bedtime: The sugar and acid will have all night to attack your teeth.
- Check ingredients for acidic additives: especially citric acid (ingredient number 330) and phosphoric acid (ingredient number 338).
- Regular checkups and exams: will identify problems before they worse
It’s concerning that parents can buy sugar-free lollies under the impression they are a healthier option for their children. Sugar free lollies don’t contain sucrose and this makes them much healthier to consume. They may not harm your teeth the same way traditional lollies do, but they can still cause tooth decay.
Most contain contain citric acid or other food acids for taste, particularly the lemon, orange or other fruit flavours. High levels of acid wears away the enamel of teeth and is a common contributor to tooth decay.
Sticky and chewy lollies, even though they don’t contain sugar, can leave residue between teeth that is difficult to clean. Try to avoid hard lollies, lollipops and caramels whenever possible. If you do feel the need to indulge, stick with flavours that are not acidic in nature.
Sugar-Free Chewing Gum
If you’re regularly chewing gum containing sugar, then you are at risk of developing dental caries (tooth decay). If you’re regularly chewing a sugar-free gum, you will be stimulating the production of saliva which is beneficial to your oral health. Saliva contains minerals which neutralise the acids.
Not all sugar free gums are good for your teeth. Be aware, if you sugar-free gum contains food acids, which are added to some gums for flavour you could be causing dental erosion. Unlike dental caries, dental erosion is not caused by sugar or bacteria. Instead, it occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. The key is to avoid citrus flavours like orange, lemon or lime. These contain acids that can damage your teeth. Other flavours of sugar-free gum, such as mint, are a great choice to keep your mouth feeling fresh.
Some artificial sweeteners are better than others. The sweetener, Xylitol, has been proven in studies to help reduce tooth decay better than any other sweetener. Although Xylitol is considered an artificial sweetener, it is actually a naturally occurring alcohol found in most plant material.
In addition to sugared and sugar-free gums, there are also sugar-free gum such as Recaldent available to buy. This product contains a special milk protein called CPP-ACP. CPP-ACP stands for casein phosphopeptide amorphous calcium phosphate complex. CPP-ACP is a remineralising agent which carry and release calcium and phosphate, minerals needed to repair teeth. It has been shown in numerous studies to increase the hardness of softened enamel and protect teeth against caries and erosion. Where decay is early and has not yet broken into a large cavity, this gum can slow down the decay process. More recent research into the effects of CPP-ACP in chewing gum indicate the agent remineralises teeth. It may also reduce the level of harmful bacteria in the mouth. However, CPP-ACP-containing gum should not be used by anyone who is known to be allergic to milk proteins.
Chewing gum can cause a lot of unnecessary strain on the jaw joints and muscles. Stop chewing gum if you experience pain around the jaw after or during chewing. Chewing sugar-free gum right after a meal, however, can improve your dental health and help prevent cavities.
Best Practice in Dental Care
No single food or beverage is a factor for enamel loss and tooth decay. Individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies. Susceptibility depends on a person’s dental hygiene, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up. We recommend regular dental checkups to make sure your teeth are well looked after.
Contact Specialist Kids Dentist today for all paediatric dental appointments. We’ll gladly schedule an appointment with one of our dentists as soon as possible.