Australian researchers tested 23 sugar-free and sugar-containing products, including soft drinks and sports drinks, and found that some with acidic additives and low pH levels (a measure of acidity) harm teeth, even if they are sugar-free.
"Many people are not aware that while reducing your sugar intake does reduce your risk of dental decay, the chemical mix of acids in some foods and drinks can cause the equally damaging condition of dental erosion," said Eric Reynolds. He is laureate professor and CEO of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Center at Melbourne University.
Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the tooth's hard tissues. "In its early stages erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. If it progresses to an advanced stage it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth," he explained in a university news release.
Reynolds and his colleagues found that most soft drinks and sports drinks caused dental enamel to soften by between 30 percent and 50 percent. Both sugar-free and sugar-containing soft drinks and flavored mineral waters caused measurable loss of the tooth surface.
Of the eight sports drinks tested, six caused loss of tooth enamel. The researchers also found that many sugar-free candies contain high levels of citric acid and can erode tooth enamel.
Just because something is sugar-free doesn't necessarily mean it's safe for teeth, Reynolds said. The study highlights the need for better product labeling and consumer information to help people choose food and drinks that are safe for their teeth, he added.
Reynolds offered several tips to help you protect your teeth. Check product labels for acidic additives, especially citric acid and phosphoric acid. Drink more water (preferably fluoridated) and fewer soft drinks and sports drinks. And, finally, after consuming acidic food and drinks, rinse your mouth with water and wait an hour before brushing your teeth. Brushing immediately can remove the softened enamel, he said.