"Sugar-Free" Snacks Are Still Bad For Your Teeth

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
We're well aware of just how bad sugar can be for us, but a new report suggests that simply opting for the "sugar-free" versions of your favorite sweet foods isn't a perfect fix. As it turns out, additives in "sugar-free" snacks and drinks can wear away the outer layers of our teeth, reports The Washington Post.

For the report, published by the University of Melbourne's Oral Health Cooperative Research Center, researchers exposed extracted human molars to 15 drinks and 32 candies labeled as "sugar-free" — as well as water and some test beverages that contained real sugar, for comparison's sake. The drinks included both soft drinks and sports drinks, and all the items were readily available in Australia. The researchers were specifically looking for the degree to which each item would erode or soften the enamel on the molars. (The enamel is the outer protective shell on your teeth, and damaging it makes it easier for cavities to form.)

The team found no significant differences between the damage to the enamel caused by sugary and non-sugary soft drinks. Out of the eight sports drinks that were tested, only two didn't damage or soften the enamel. And 22 of the 32 candies tested had a pH of 4.5 or lower, suggesting they were extremely acidic. In most cases, the researchers blamed acidic additives (e.g. citric and phosphorous acid) for the damage.

When we eat foods with a lot of sugar in them, bacteria in the plaque on our teeth use that sugar to create acid. Over time, that acid can destroy our enamel, causing a cavity. So both sugary and acidic drinks and snacks can do damage to your teeth, albeit in different ways. Trying to eat less sugar definitely isn't a bad thing — it just won't necessarily save your teeth.

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