16 Mar 2018 Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for Teeth?
Do you read food labels? You may have noticed, more and more often, that foods we are eating contain artificial sweeteners. Are artificial sweeteners bad for your teeth? Or are they good for your teeth because they don’t contain sugar?
What does sugar do on teeth?
We have all been told that sugar is bad for teeth. But why? What does sugar do to teeth, exactly? Sugar, is the fuel for a certain kind of bacteria that lives in our mouths. When sugar is in our mouths, these bacteria start multiplying and will do so for 20 minutes after a sugary snack is eaten. In that 20 minutes, the bacteria produce acids which coat our teeth, weakens our enamel, and then will eventually form cavities. Our bodies do produce saliva which helps to bring our mouth back to a neutron pH. But with a typical American diet, our body cannot keep up with and tooth decay happens.
Sugar can be listed on food labels as sucrose (table sugar), fructose (corn syrup), honey, dehydrated cane juice, beet juice, maltose, and many others.
It seems reasonable to think that if we don’t feed the bacteria, acid won’t be produced and tooth decay won’t occur. Since artificial sweeteners don’t feed bacteria, the acid chain is broken, right?
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are food additives that provide a sweet taste, similar to sugar but often without the calories. They can be both naturally and synthetically derived. There are many FDA-approve artificial sweeteners on the market today—saccharine, aspartame (“Equal”), Xylitol and Sucralose (sugar alcohols), and Stevia (plant based and not yet FDA-approved)—just to name a few.
Many people are confused about whether these sweeteners are safe to use. Many studies have been done on these sweeteners and others. No studies have definitively proved they were harmful or not harmful. Results are inconclusive.
Are sweeteners better for teeth than sugar?
This is the big question. It seems logical that artificial sweeteners would be good for teeth. However, a 2015 Australian study (https://oralhealthcrc.org.au/sites/default/files/Dental%20Erosion%20 Briefing%20Paper_FINAL2015.pdf) found the opposite. It compared drinks sweetened with sugar to drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners. The study found that both types of drinks had the same erosive effect on tooth enamel. The reason for this is that they still contained acids like citric acid (added for a tangy taste) or phosphoric acid (in carbonated drinks). Both of these acids and others corroded tooth enamel despite not containing sugar. Is Diet Coke better for teeth than regular Coke? According to this study, they are both equally bad.
What about sugar-free gum? Is that better for teeth?
Yes, sugar-free gum is good for teeth, especially mint-flavored. Gum stimulates saliva production which can neutralize acid in the mouth and help clean the mouth.
All of us want to be able to eat sweet foods and somehow avoid the consequences. The truth is that any sweetened “junk” food is going to be bad for our teeth and fresh fruits and veggies are much better, no matter how badly we want the opposite to be true!