It is common knowledge that sugar-filled sodas, sports drinks, and juices are bad news when it comes to maintaining healthy teeth. Now, a study done by researchers at Melbourne University's Oral Health Cooperative Research Center shows their sugar-free counterparts aren't great for your teeth either.
"Sugar can cause damage to teeth when it is fermented in the mouth and produces acid," says Lilliam Pinzon, DDS, MS, MPH, the section head of Public Health and Global Health at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. "In sugar-free drinks, phosphorous and citric acid can wear away the enamel of teeth."
While sugar-free drinks will not lead directly to cavities, the weakening of enamel can cause a host of problems. "Teeth may become more sensitive to hot and cold," says Dr. Pinzon. "They may stain and are more likely to chip or break."
So, what should people drink? "Good old tap water, especially here in Utah where the water is fluoridated to harden teeth and protect them against decay," says Dr. Pinzon. "Most bottled waters do not contain fluoride, and we really shouldn't be using that much plastic anyway."
The study from Melbourne University found that water, which was used as the control beverage, actually led to a hardening of teeth enamel.
If you do enjoy a sugar-free, flavored beverage don't brush your teeth - at least not right away. "The acids will have weakened your enamel, and brushing could remove it," says Dr. Pinzon. "The best thing to do is rinse your mouth out with water and then brush about an hour later."
While researchers found that sugar-free candy can have a similar impact on tooth enamel, they did not find sugar-free gum to cause problems. "Sugar-free gum is great for tooth health, especially if it contains xylitol," says Dr. Pinzon. "Chewing gum also stimulates saliva, which can rinse away acids and bacteria in the mouth that may cause problems."