It is known that bacteria in the mouth ferments sugar in dental plaque to produce acid that dissolves the outer layer of tooth enamel. It is the acid that damages teeth and causes erosion. Therefore, acidic drinks whether they contain sugar or not can erode teeth and lead to tooth decay. These include sports drinks, mineral waters and diet sodas.
A team of researchers at Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) based at the University Of Melbourne, Australia - November 2015- set out to examine the implications of the sugar-free alternatives and found that they can still cause tooth decay.
The study identified the primary components of sugar-free soft drinks that were responsible for low pH levels (low pH means high acidity). These are phosphoric acid, sodium citrate, citric acid, and tartrates.
The researchers tested 15 soft drinks, of which three were sugar-free brands on a collection of 70 human molars free of dental caries for their ability to cause surface loss and enamel softening. The researchers noted that all of the drinks tested showed measurable weight and surface loss. Six of the eight sports drinks tested in the study caused loss of dental enamel, but not to the same degree. Only two sports drinks of the tested drinks with higher calcium contents were not found to cause significant loss of enamel.
"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, a professor at Melbourne Dental School and CEO of Oral Health CRC.
Consumers should be aware that many sugar-free products are potentially harmful to teeth due to their chemical composition. Therefore they are encouraged to check product labels for the key acidic compounds (phosphoric acid, sodium citrate, citric acid, and tartrates) and gravitate towards drinks that either do not have these ingredients or ones that also contain calcium to better protect their teeth.