We are all aware of the risks to our health of eating too much sugar; weight gain, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, to name just a few. Sugar also, of course, increases your risk of tooth decay and cavities. In a move to minimise these health risks and still enjoy some sweetness, alternative sweeteners in your morning coffee seems like a sensible switch – but is it?
Sugar and Your Teeth
A recent study has recently shown that sugar (sucrose) is the carbohydrate most likely to cause tooth decay. The way it works is this: bacteria in your mouth break sugar down into acids. These acids combine with bacteria, saliva and food to create plaque which eventually wears away at tooth enamel, creating cavities and tooth decay.
One of the obvious appeals of artificial sweeteners is that they can add sweetness without the additional calories of sugar.
If you are looking to sweeten a drink or snack and consume fewer calories than you would with sugar, there are many options available. Some common artificial sweeteners include:
- Acesulfame K
The good news is, unlike regular sugar, artificial sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay.
Even better is the emerging thought that artificial sweeteners may have actions that help to prolong and prevent tooth decay from occurring. In the same way that sugar causes the pH of the mouth to drop, artificial sweeteners seem to do the opposite, which decreases the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
Are artificial sweeteners the way forward?
Artificial sweeteners clearly provide some benefits for your oral health and teeth. Does this mean that we should eliminate sugar entirely from our diets and use artificial sweeteners instead? Not quite. While cutting back on sugar is definitely a wise move for many reasons, you might not want to add an artificial sweetener to everything. This could lull you into a false sense of security.
As we know, we should aim for a balanced and varied diet for our general health but also our oral health, so we do not want to eliminate sugar entirely. If you swap a sugary fizzy drink to one containing an artificial sweetener instead, you are making sure that you do not have too much sugar that will create plaque in your mouth and also consuming fewer calories, but fizzy drinks are often not a very nutrient – savvy choice. An occasional treat is fine!
It is worth noting that diet fizzy and soft drinks contain acid that can wear down enamel and contribute to decay.
Whatever you decide to do to continue enjoying your food and drink, whilst at the same time minimising your tooth decay risks, always remember to continue brushing your teeth twice a day and to floss regularly. It is important to discuss any questions or concerns you have about your oral health and oral care routine with your dentist.