Sugary Drinks and Your Oral Health

The word is out: sugar isn’t good for your teeth or your waistline. According to a recent Colgate article, table sugar, also known as sucrose, has a whopping 16 calories per teaspoon and is found in several food and drink items. Thankfully, as people have learned of the detrimental side effects of sugar, many are turning to sugar-free alternatives, and food and beverage makers are taking notice. More and more sugar-free options are being introduced and promoted, making it especially important that everyone know the positive and negative aspects of sugar free beverages.  Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of different sweeteners.

Naturally Sweet

Examples of naturally sugar-free beverages include freshly brewed tea, coffee, and both regular and carbonated water. Stevia, a naturally occurring, no-calorie sweetener, can be added as well as caloric options such as agave nectar and honey. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, sugar alcohols are another option of low caloric sweeteners that do not contribute to tooth decay. These include xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and sorbitol, which is actually found in anticavity toothpastes.

Synthetic Sweeteners

High fructose corn syrup is a processed sweetening agent that is derived from refining corn and extracting its sugars, making it both natural and processed. Several synthetic sweeteners used in “diet” or “light” versions of beverages have received a lot of negative attention, mainly because the body cannot process these scientifically modified sweeteners. Examples include acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose. You can commonly find these on any given table in a restaurant. They come in color coded packets: pink, yellow, and blue.

Benefits of Sugar-free Beverages

The top two benefits include weight control and the prevention of type-2 diabetes, both very important. Research found in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that “women who drink regular sodas or fruit punches at a rate of one or more per day experienced an 83- (for soda drinkers) to 100-percent (for fruit punches) increased risk for type-2 diabetes.” Sugar-free drinks eliminate these “empty” calories, allowing you to enjoy the sweet taste without the added calories.

Effect of Sugar on Oral Health

Your risk for tooth decay significantly decreases when you consume beverages that are low in sugar. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims that the excessive sugars found in sports drinks, fruit juices and soda are harmful to teeth because oral bacteria feed on these sugars and form plaque, demineralizing the surface of your teeth. On top of that, many of these beverages are very acidic, speeding up the process and increasing the rate of decay. Proper oral hygiene can help counteract these effects, which includes brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, and visiting your dentist bi-annually for professional cleanings and exams.

Possible Consequences of Sugar Substitutes

The National Cancer Institute has voiced concerns regarding the safety of consuming artificial sweeteners, however this claim has not been scientifically proven. There are arguments for and against the use of artificial sweeteners and further research is being conducted to validate the safety of such products. Sugar-free options are still the better option when compared to sugary sodas and other beverages, but natural alternatives such as tea, coffee, and water will always be the best choice.

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