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Are artificial sweeteners bad for your teeth?

Do artificial sweeteners cause tooth decay, or affect your teeth and oral health in other ways? Our Edmonton dentists share some insights into this common question, and what you can do to protect your oral health. 

What are artificial sweeteners?

To understand the impact of artificial sweeteners on our oral health, we should first review what they are. Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes, meaning they don't contain any sugar. That said, they are designed to taste sweet while being marketed as "diet" or "sugar-free". Some artificial sweeteners are low-calorie, while others don't add any calories. 

Artificial sweeteners are often added to foods such as dairy products, baked goods, jams and jellies, candy, soft drinks, drink mixes and puddings. Different types of artificial sweeteners include:

  • Acesulfame Potassium (Sunnett, Swiss Sweet, Sweet One)
  • Advantame 
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Glycerol (Gylcerin, Glycerine)
  • Glycyrrhizin (Licorice)
  • Neotame (Newtame)
  • Saccharin (Sugar Twin, Sweet N Low)
  • Sorbitol (Sugar alcohol, D-glucitol, D-glucitol syrup)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Xylitol 

Do artificial sweeteners cause cavities?

Now that we've identified what artificial sweeteners are and what types of foods they are commonly found in, let's examine how they can affect your oral health.

Artificial sweeteners are not sugar, nor do they contain sugar. However, many products containing sweeteners also have a high level of acid, which means they don't protect your teeth from the damage the acid can cause to your enamel. Sugar-free candies and pop are typically highly acidic since it makes them taste better. 

That said, not all artificial sweeteners are bad for your teeth. One sweetener named Xylitol has been proven to health reduce tooth decay more than any other sweetener.

You'll find Xylitol in sugar-free mint-flavoured gum, which can help keep your teeth healthy by removing those acidic food particles from the surface of a tooth and increasing the amount of saliva produced in your mouth. 

Also, remember that not all artificially sweetened products are highly acidic. For example, chocolate-flavoured foods are usually lower in acid than sour or fruit-flavoured foods or drinks.

Stevia, which doesn't contain fermentable carbohydrates, is a good alternative to sugar where cavities are concerned. It can be found in baked goods, granola bars, salad dressings, tabletop sweetener and more.  

Contrast this to when you eat or drink a food or beverage with sugar, the bacteria in your mouth break sugar down into acids. The pH in your mouth drops due to this increase in acids, which combine with bacteria, food and saliva to create plaque that sticks to your teeth and eats away tooth enamel, eventually resulting in cavities. 

Are artificial sweeteners bad for your oral health?

Many products containing sweeteners have a high level of acid, which means they don't protect your teeth from the damage the acid can cause to your enamel. Sugar-free candies and pop are typically highly acidic since it makes them taste better. 

Artificial sweeteners do not affect your teeth in the same way as sugar will. However, they can still harm your oral health.

If you replace a sugary soda with a diet soda sweetened with aspartame or sucralose, you are simply trading one problematic drink with another.  

While diet soda doesn't contain extra calories, your body also won't get the nutrition it craves. Diet sodas, sports drinks and other drinks also contain their own acids that can wear down enamel, contribute to decay and cause cavities. In fact, they may do as much damage to teeth as those that have real sugar. 

Citric acid and phosphoric acid are the most common causes of tooth damage. These are found in sugar-free colas and candy that taste tangy, but can harm your teeth. 

Some people wonder whether artificial sweeteners and tooth sensitivity go hand-in-hand. If tooth enamel is worn away due to abrasion and erosion caused by acidic foods and drinks, tooth sensitivity may become. an issue. 

How to Protect Your Oral Health

Here are some tips on how to protect your oral and overall health, whether you are consuming sugar or sweetener. Leave the sticky or chewy snacks, candy and lollipops in the cupboard.

  • Always drink water after eating or drinking something high in sugar. If you decide to consume products containing artificial sweeteners, go for drinks that are not fruit-flavoured or sour. 
  • Book your regular dental cleaning so you and your dentist can stay on top of your oral hygiene and detect any cavities or other oral health issues early.
  • Brushing your teeth twice each day and flossing regularly will help to decrease your risk of tooth decay - whether you decide to add regular sugar, aspartame or sucralose to your coffee, or drink it unsweetened. 
  • Check the ingredients. Some acidic ingredients are coded on labels. Make sure to check for ingredient numbers 330 (citric acid) and 338 (phosphoric acid). 
  • Avoid brushing right after eating or drinking acidic foods and drinks, which can actually wear away enamel due to abrasion and erosion. Wait about 30 minutes to brush. 

We can also address any questions or concerns you may have about your oral health or oral care routine. 

Do you have questions about artificial sweeteners and your oral health, or other aspects of your diet? Contact our Edmonton dentists

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