Sugar-free soft drinks, sports drinks, candy, and health products perceived to be healthier than their sugary counterparts are just as capable of damaging your teeth, a new study from Melbourne University’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre has found.
The methods of attack are not quite the same — the sugar in your food gets fermented by plaque and produces acid which leads to dental decay, or caries, while many sugar-free foods still contain enough acid to promote dental erosion, in which surface layers of tooth enamel are worn away.
Dental erosion, in turn, can lead to decay. Among the most common contributors to erosion are phosphoric acid, mostly found in sodas (both sugary and sugar-free) and citric acid and sodium citrate, which are found in lemon- and lime-flavored beverages. Fruit-flavored candies typically contained higher levels of acid than mint and menthol candies.
In a study of 15 drinks commonly available across Australian schools, including three sugar-free options, researchers found that both the sugar-sweetened beverages and the sugar-free drinks produced “significant erosion of the dental enamel, with teeth showing measurable weight and surface loss. The researchers found that there was no significant difference between the erosive potential of sugared and non-sugared soft drinks.