If you think you're doing your pearly whites a favor by choosing sugar-free free candies and sodas, you might be sacrificing the flavor of the real thing for nothing... well, besides an exercise in self-loathing. In particular, new research suggests that exposing your teeth to such sugar-free alternatives does just as much damage as choosing -- and enjoying -- the vastly superior-tasting sugary versions. That is nothing to smile about.
After testing nearly two dozen sugar-free and sugary products like candies, soft drinks, and sports drinks, scientists at the Oral Health Cooperative Research Center at Melbourne University determined that despite being sugar-free, some products were still harmful to tooth enamel, thanks to their acidic chemical compositions, according to a report by The Washington Post. But you may have already learned this the hard way after eating a whole bag of your grandma's sugar-free Jolly Ranchers as a kid.
“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, laureate professor and CEO of the oral health center, in a press release. "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.”
Among their key findings, the researchers determined that soft drinks and sports drinks caused dental enamel to soften by 30% to 50%, and that both sugar-free and sugary soft drinks resulted in similar amounts of significant loss of tooth surface. In addition to warning of potentially misleading "tooth-friendly" product labels, the researchers recommend checking ingredients lists for acidic additives, choosing water over soft drinks, and actually holding off for an hour after consuming these things before brushing your teeth so as not to scrub away the softened tooth layer.
Basically, this is all to say that if you love the sweet stuff -- whether sugar-free or not -- you really can't win.
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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and always goes for the real stuff anyway. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.