Are diet sodas including sugar-free Starbucks drinks bad for your teeth?
Is Sugar-Free Safe For Your Teeth?
Sugar is the new enemy.
Like fat in decades past, the trend has turned, and sugar is the enemy. Admittedly, overconsumption of sugar and sugar-laden foods and beverages are indeed the underlying medical cause for a variety of modern ailments including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
When it comes to oral health, sugar has always been the enemy. Oral doctors and dentists have long known that sugar fuels harmful and destructive oral bacteria that erode enamel and perpetuate infections. As a result of the widespread awareness of the role that sugar plays in degrading our teeth, many consumers are dumping sweets altogether and reaching instead for sugar substitutes and alternatives.
These so-called “sugar-free” substitutes can now be found in a variety of foods and beverages from soda to coffee. The question is and remains, are “sugar-free” foods and beverages, including sugar-free Starbucks drinks any better for our teeth and oral health?
“In general, eliminating conventional sugars from the diet and keeping them away from the mouth is an excellent idea.”
— DR. REZA KHAZAIE, DDS. PROSTHODONTIST
Sugar-Free But Not Scot-Free
Saccharin, Aspartame, Xylitol, Sorbitol, Sucralose, Stevia – these are but a handful of the numerous sugar-substitutes and alternatives available on the market today. Although all of these are generally low or no-calorie alternatives to sugar, their chemical makeups and interactions all differ. It is difficult to evaluate each substance’s good and adverse effects without diving in-depth into each substance and the ways they interact with the human body. However, as a group, general conclusions can be drawn and characteristics that affect oral health.
In general, eliminating conventional sugars from the diet and keeping them away from the mouth is an excellent idea.
Sugars are metabolized by bacteria, which spew out teeth-destroying acid wastes. Sugar substitutes cannot be metabolized by these bacteria, thereby denying them the fuel necessary to survive.
Furthermore, there is evidence that sugar substitutes, particularly xylitol and sorbitol, actually cause salivation, keeping bacteria in check. Contrary to the widespread perception that spit and saliva are unclean, human saliva contains a potent cocktail of anti-microbial ingredients. Saliva helps to keep bacteria from proliferating in the mouth. In fact, dry mouth is almost always associated with higher risks of dental caries and other oral infections.
Artificial sweeteners, however, are not without their risks to oral health. Most directly, many artificial sweeteners have been shown to soften and weaken the enamel or tough outer surface of your teeth. There is a real concern that although artificial sweeteners do not contribute to bacterial proliferation, they are acidic enough to erode teeth directly. Commonly added acidic ingredients in sugar-free foods and beverages, such as phosphoric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, have been shown to damage and erode the enamel. Even worse, artificial sweeteners can play tricks on our minds and make us crave even more sugar over time.
Ultimately, sugar-free foods and beverages are by no means a perfect solution to the health problems of the world, including dental decay, obesity, and diabetes. When it comes to oral health, sugar-free alternatives can be useful for helping us move away from bacteria-fueling sugary foods and drinks. However, they should be consumed in moderation and to mitigate high acidity.
When drinking a beverage containing artificial sweeteners, for example, try using a straw to minimize direct contact with your teeth.
Sugar-Free Gum is Great
While sugar-free confections and drinks are a bit of a mixed bag, there is one sugar-free product most dental professionals actually agree is not only harmless but possibly beneficial for your teeth: sugar-free chewing gum.
Chewing gum containing xylitol or sorbitol can not only mechanically scrape plaque off your teeth but also encourage saliva production. So next time you get a hankering for something sweet, try popping a couple of sticks of sugar-free gum into your mouth. Your mouth and your body will thank you.
The most effective way to ensure healthy teeth is to provide health to the rest of your body.
Eating a balanced diet with the recommended amounts of critical macro and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, will go a long way towards achieving that goal.
Calcium through dairy products, phosphorus through lean proteins, and the vitamins found in vegetables are critical for every aspect of a tooth’s health, from its enamel’s strength and resilience to its ability to ward off infections and promote dentin regeneration.
Remember, each component of your body, from your mouth to your heart to your brain, is intimately and inextricably connected and dependent on each other. For example, infections of the gum can directly contribute to heart failure. This means that caring for your teeth is more than just routine brushing and flossing. Its part of a holistic understanding that is caring for one part of the body is beneficial for all of it.