Anyone who has ever been within hearing distance of a dentist (or frankly, a mother) knows that sugar is bad for their teeth, leading to cavities, decay and discoloration.
A new study coming out of Australia, however, confirms that the sugar-free options really aren’t better either. Researchers from the University of Melbourne Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre soaked human teeth in 15 different beverages including sugary drinks and sugar-free beverages made with artificial sweeteners and found no significant difference in tooth damage. All the teeth showed measurable weight loss and surface loss.
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The reason for this, however, may surprise you (or not, if you pay attention to all the other bad things diet soda does to your body). According to the paper, in regular soda, the “sugar is fermented by bacteria in the dental plaque on the tooth surface to produce acid, which, if not thoroughly removed, leads to dental decay.” Sugar-free drinks and candy, however, skip right over the bacteria step, because the chemical ingredients found in the products directly erode away the enamel. “Consumers should be aware that many sugar-free products are potentially harmful to teeth due to their chemical composition,” the report calls out.
The study also notes that the main culprits are the acidic additives found in diet drinks, specifically phosphoric acid, sodium citrate, citric acid and tartrates. Phosphoric acid is commonly found in colas and citric acid in anything that’s lemon- or lime-flavored.
“No doubt if one of the main ingredients in diet drinks is phosphoric acid, and the person drinks a considerable daily amount over a period of time dental erosion especially at the gum line can occur. When enamel is eroded the underlying tooth structure called dentin can be exposed which also erodes at a more rapid rate,” adds Atlanta, GA cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS.
But, if your love for Diet Coke is just too strong, also consider this: The researchers noted that “more than 60,000 Australians are hospitalized each year for preventable oral health conditions, which costs the Australian economy $8.7 billion per year. Growing body of evidence links oral disease to other health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease, respiratory diseases, inflammatory diseases and some cancers.”
In other words, it’s best to just drink water.
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