Diet sodas and sports drinks can do about as much damage to teeth as those that contain real sugar. A recent study found sugar-free drinks can soften dental enamel by 30 to 50 percent.
Scientists at the University of Melbourne tested 23 different types of drinks, 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,” says Professor Eric Reynolds.
“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.”
Both sugar-containing and sugar-free soft drinks (including flavored mineral waters) produced measurable loss of the tooth surface, with no significant difference between the two groups of drinks.
Of 8 sports drinks tested, all but 2 (those with higher calcium content) were found to cause loss of dental enamel.
The researchers say citric acid is a major cause of tooth erosion. Colas that are sugar-free usually have citric acid added for tanginess, as well as phosphoric acid, which also isn’t good for teeth.
Eroded tooth enamel is more prone to bacteria, this makes teeth more susceptible to tooth decay.
Reynolds says that while some sugar-free candies claim to be tooth-friendly, consumers should be aware that their acidic ingredients make them potentially harmful.