The British Dental Journal recently published a report from a team of US researchers which found that many sugar-free foods, beverages and confectionary products often contain additives that are as harmful to one's dental health as sugar.
"The public's perception is that (sugar-free foods) will never cause any dental harm. However, that may be a misconception when those products contain acidic additives," says study author Sok-Ja Janket, Research Associate Professor at Boston University's Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. "Acids dissolve the calcium in the enamel and cause erosion. Whether sugar-free or sugar-containing, if the products contain acidic additives, we are delivering these acids on a platter."
The researchers stress that it's not the substitutes themselves (a.k.a. polyols) such as onesorbitol and xylitol that cause the damage, but rather the additional ingredients that give many of these products their fruity or sour taste. They recommend that consumers check the list of ingredients to see if they contain acids including, but not limited to, ascorbic, tartaric, mallic or phosphoric; all of which cause your mouth's pH levels to fall below the critical stage where dental erosion can occur.
Not All Bad News
However, it should be pointed out here that not all sugar-free foods are bad for your teeth. Researchers involved in the above study concluding that if there's an absence of these additives, and they are consumed in moderation, consumers can avoid much of the negative impact.
"Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water," says Janket. "Most sugar-free products are tooth-friendly. Only those flavoured with acidic additives are potentially dangerous as far as dental erosion is concerned. Like everything else, the public should be informed and read the ingredients."