There has been much debate over sugar-free products with some claiming that they are the next best thing for a healthy lifestyle and others stating that they could actually lead to cancer and other ailments in the future. Adding to the case against sugar free products is a recent study by researchers at the University of Melbourne's Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre which states that sugar-free drinks can cause measurable damage to the tooth enamel.
The group of researchers tested 23 different types of drink, including soft drinks and sports drinks, and found drinks that contain acidic additives and with low pH levels cause measurable damage to dental enamel, even if the drink is sugar-free.
"Many people are not aware that while reducing your sugar intake does reduce your risk of dental decay, the chemical mix of acids in some foods and drinks can cause the equally damaging condition of dental erosion," said Eric Reynolds, CEO of the Oral Health CRC.
"Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. In its early stages erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. If it progresses to an advanced stage it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth," said Reynolds.
Early dental erosion can usually be reversed by oral health professionals with treatments to replace lost minerals. In more advanced cases, the lost surface of a tooth may need a filling or crown. The researchers measured dental enamel softening and tooth surface loss following exposure to a range of drinks.
The majority of soft drinks and sports drinks caused softening of dental enamel by 30-50 per cent. Both sugar-containing and sugar-free soft drinks (including flavoured mineral waters) produced measurable loss of the tooth surface, with no significant difference between the two groups of drinks. Of eight sports drinks tested, all but two (those with higher calcium content) were found to cause loss of dental enamel.
Reynolds said that 'sugar-free' labelling does not necessarily mean a product is safe for teeth. "We have even found sugar-free confectionery products that are labelled 'tooth-friendly' and which when tested were found to be erosive," said Reynolds.