With the holidays upon us, we are surrounded by a variety of sweets that can threaten our oral health. These sweet treats are usually made by adding tons of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sugar is detrimental to your oral health when consumed in excess because it feeds the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. Feeding these bacteria causes two things to happen. First, the bacteria deposit acidic waste on the surface of your teeth that can cause enamel erosion. Second, bacterial populations can increase when there is an abundance of food available to them. As bacterial populations grow, more acidic waste is deposited on the surface of your teeth, which weakens the enamel and makes your teeth susceptible to decay and damage.
Since too much sugar can also lead to problems with your overall health, some people turn to artificial sweeteners instead. Artificial sweeteners are a type of sugar substitute that mimics the sweetness of sugar without actually being sugar. In fact, most artificial sweeteners are far sweeter than sugar and are often found in jellies and jams, baked goods, candy, puddings, dairy products, canned foods, and soft drinks or drink mixes. There are also different types of sweeteners such as:
- Saccharin (Sweet N Low, Sugar Twin)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Neotame (Newtame)
Despite their sweet taste, artificial sweeteners have little to no calories and do not raise blood sugar levels, making them ideal for those trying to lose weight or who have diabetes. Since artificial sweeteners are generally viewed as an ideal option for those on a sugar-free diet or who are watching their caloric intake, many people also wonder if artificial sweeteners are better for their oral health.
When compared to actual sugar, artificial sweeteners do have one main benefit: they are not sugar. This ultimately means that the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease are unable to feed on artificial sweeteners like they can on sugar. Since bacteria are unable to consume artificial sweeteners, they also do not produce acidic waste responsible for damaging your enamel. In this regard, artificial sweeteners are preferential to sugar in regards to your oral health.
There is also one type of artificial sweetener that has been shown to reduce the risk of tooth decay. It is known as xylitol and it is found primarily in sugarless gum. It can reduce the risk of tooth decay by increasing saliva production. Saliva is the body’s way of cleaning your mouth and neutralizing the harmful acids that damage your teeth. Therefore, chewing sugarless gum with xylitol after meals can help to clean your mouth if you are unable to brush your teeth. In fact, the American Dental Association actually recommends chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after eating.
With the exception of xylitol, artificial sweeteners can still be detrimental to your oral health despite the fact that they do not feed bacteria. This is because many artificial sweeteners are used in foods and beverages that also contain acids to increase their flavoring, especially those with fruit or citrus flavors. While these acids increase the flavor, they are just as damaging to your enamel as the acids produced by bacteria. Not only that, but artificial sweeteners can also be used in foods that tend to be sticky, chewy, or slow-dissolving. These foods can affect your oral health by getting stuck on the surface of your teeth and damaging your enamel.
Since artificial sweeteners still have the ability to damage your enamel, it is recommended to limit your consumption of foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners. It is also recommended to practice good dental hygiene when you do consume foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners so that you can minimize the damage being done to your enamel. While brushing and flossing are important to clean your teeth, keep in mind that you should wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth, otherwise you may do more damage than good. Finally, be sure to keep up with your regular dental exams and cleanings to keep your teeth healthy and clean.