Everyone knows that soda and other sugary drinks are bad for teeth. But sugar-free drinks also can take a toll, according to the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) at the University of Melbourne. After testing 23 different beverages including soft drinks and sports drinks, its researchers found that drinks with acidic additives and low pH levels can significantly damage enamel even if they are sugar-free.
“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 Melbourne Laureate Professor Eric Reynolds, CEO of the Oral Health CRC.
According to the researchers, most soft drinks and sports drinks soften enamel by 30% to 50%. Also, drinks with and without sugar, including flavored mineral waters, both produced measurable loss of the tooth surface without any significant difference between them. And of the 8 sports drinks tested, all but 2, which had higher calcium content, caused loss of dental enamel.
In a recent report, the Oral Health CRC recommends better consumer information and product labeling to help people consider their oral health when choosing food and drink products. Reynolds notes that “sugar-free” labeling doesn’t necessarily mean a product is safe for teeth.
“We have even found sugar-free confectionery products that are labeled ‘Toothfriendly’ and which when tested were found to be erosive,” he said.
For example, people who use sugar-free confections to stimulate saliva for health reasons should choose mint or menthol flavored products instead of fruit-flavored items with high levels of food acid, particularly lemon-flavored products with citrate.
The researchers say consumers should check ingredients for acidic additives, especially citric acid (ingredient number 330) and phosphoric acid (ingredient number 338). They also should drink more fluoridated water and limit soft and sports drinks. And after eating or drinking acidic products, consumers should rinse with water and wait an hour before brushing so they don’t remove the softened tooth layer.