Can Artificial Sweeteners Hurt My Teeth?

As many varieties of artificial sweeteners have entered the market over the past 60 years, few people if any questioned whether or not these man-made “sugars” had any negative health effects at their initial launch.

Nowadays, several studies have linked artificial sweeteners with insulin resistance, metabolism slow-down, and even cancer. While the negative side effects of artificial sweeteners are a topic of heated debate, the effects of artificial sweeteners on teeth is well understood. Here are three popular “sugar-free” products and what we know about their effect on your oral health.

Diet Sodas and Drinks

While you can lower your sugar intake by drinking sugar-free drinks, studies show that the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and sugar-free drinks can soften your enamel and erode your teeth. Unlike other parts of your body, your teeth can’t repair themselves, which is why it’s so important to take good care of them. Once the enamel is gone, it doesn’t come back.

What We Recommend

You don’t have to stop drinking all juices, sodas, or even diet sodas for proper dental health. However, what we do recommend is:

  • Drink diet or non-diet drinks in moderation. Replace the occasional drink with water or milk to keep your enamel strong.
  • Brush your teeth after drinking a diet or non-diet drink. The longer the acids and sugars sit in your mouth, the higher at risk you are for tooth decay.

Sugar-Free Candy

Hard candy of any variety can be hard on your teeth regardless of what the candy is sweetened with. Not only can hard candies crack or damage your enamel but they can leave hard-to-clean residue behind on your teeth.
A pile of colorful hard candies.

The problem with sugar-free candy is that there are still other ingredients that can break down your teeth, such as citric acid. Orange, lemon, and other citrus flavors often have citric acid in them, which are more likely to cause tooth decay.

We recommend avoiding any acidic flavors like lemon or orange and thoroughly brush and floss 30 minutes after consumption to avoid the bad effects of hard candy.

Sugar-Free Gum

Not all sugar-free gums are created equal. Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol can actually benefit your teeth. Especially in situations where you can’t brush or floss after a meal or snack, sugar-free gum can help keep your teeth clean and remove the sugar, bacteria, and acid that stays on your teeth after a meal.

Chewing sugar-free gum can also help rinse your mouth by stimulating saliva flow. More saliva means your mouth can better rinse the harmful acids that sticks to your teeth after you eat.

In fact, sugar-free gum has been given the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of acceptance as a product that signifies which items are good for your dental health.
A girl blowing a bubble from bubble gum.

Why Shouldn’t You Chew Sugar-Free Gum?

While chewing sugar-free gum can help you avoid cavities and improve your dental health, there can be too much of a good thing. Over-chewing can take a toll on your jaw muscles.

We recommend chewing sugar-free gum (preferably sweetened with xylitol) after meals or snacks. However, constant gum-chewing is not recommended for your jaw health.

The Final Word

Whether you sweeten your food with sugar, Splenda, or another common artificial sweetener, we recommend consuming in moderation and brushing vigilantly after meals. Simple carbs in the form of bread, crackers, or sugar all cause acid formation on the surface of your teeth, so reducing added sugar intake is only part of the battle.

Taking care of your teeth requires consistency and understanding how foods affect them. Regardless of the type of sweetener involved, acidic flavors like lemon, lime, and orange in natural and artificial forms can cause more damage to your teeth. Flavors that often cause less decay are chocolate, mint, or vanilla.

At any meal where acidic flavors are present (even in the form of acidic fruits and vegetables) we encourage you to drink lots of water to wash the acid from your teeth and avoid softening your enamel.

What Else Can Be Bad For Your Teeth?

There are a lot of tooth myths out there. When it comes to your oral health, it’s hard to figure out what parts of your lifestyle are helping or hurting your teeth. We’ve answered quite a few questions in the past about what’s good or bad. Have you ever wondered about these questions? Check out the answers!

How Should You Care for Your Teeth?

Whether you use sugar substitutes or not, there is no substitute for consistent, daily brushing and flossing and a dental cleaning and exam twice a year. Keeping your smile white and free of cavities is possible no matter how you sweeten your food and beverages, but talk to your dentist if you have specific questions about the effect of your sweetener of choice on your pearly whites.

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