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Sugar Substitutes Vs. Sugar: What’s the Impact on Oral Health?

September 4, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — dr_carollo @ 12:07 am
illustration of teeth and sugarless mint gum

Just a couple of hours down the road from Florham Park, the Sugar Factory in Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino features more than 500 types of candy. From the King Kong Sundae that serves 12 people to 64-ounce, alcohol-infused smoking candy goblets like the Lollipop Passion, the Sugar Factory might just be the best place in New Jersey to treat your sweet tooth.

It sounds like a lot of fun for your taste buds, but it’s important to be mindful that sugars in food and drinks play a significant role in the development of tooth decay. Bacteria within the plaque that forms over teeth use the sugar as energy and releases acid as a waste product, which gradually dissolves the enamel on your teeth.

There are alternatives to sugar when you are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth; one study found that approximately 85 percent of Americans use sugar substitutes in some form. And they are added to many processed foods.

But are they truly a superior option as it pertains to your oral health?

Can Sugar Substitutes Possibly Be Better for Your Teeth Than Real Sugar?

While no sugar substitutes are truly healthy for your teeth like water or celery are, they are at least better for you in terms of having fewer calories than regular sugar. Studies have shown that while bacteria in the mouth still feeds on these substitutes, they do not feed as quickly on them as they do with regular sugar.

Certain sugar substitutes provide many benefits for oral health. Whereas sugar attracts bad bacteria, some substitutes like polyols have antibacterial properties. Many polyols cannot be broken down by bacteria like sugar can.

Several studies have indicated that the polyol xylitol may inhibit bacterial growth, stopping acid production and thus reducing the risk of tooth decay. It is found in a variety of gum and mint products.

Even Sugar Substitutes are Best Served in Moderation

Just because sugar substitutes are safer for your teeth than the real thing, they are not without their issues. These are still sweeteners, which bacteria will feed on even if at a slower rate, so it is important to rinse or brush after items like diet cola. Sugar substitutes like honey or maple syrup still have the effects of sugar, so they should be consumed in moderation.

There is an artificial sweetener, cyclamate, linked to bladder cancer, while some people actually cannot process aspartame due to a genetic condition. Even products containing polyols present risk of enamel erosion and tooth decay if they also contain acidic flavoring.

The fact is, both sugar and sugar substitutes have negative attributes, but at least sugar substitutes can have various benefits for oral health. If you commit to a healthy diet of whole foods and consume sweeteners in moderation, it’s going to be in the best interest of your oral health over the long haul.

About the Author

Dr. John Carollo has lived in New Jersey his entire life and maintained his current practice in Florham Park for more than three decades. An author and lecturer, Dr. Carollo has written more than 20 articles that have been published in various dental journals, but he also seeks out opportunities to expand his knowledge and learn from others. Dr. Carollo is proud to be the Official Team Dentist of the New York Jets since 2006. To schedule a dental exam or get more information on one of Dr. Carollo’s many other dental services, visit his website or call (973) 377-5117.

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