Grosse Pointe & Shelby Township


Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cavities or Gum Disease Like Sugar?

A man pouring artificial sweetener into his coffee.

Have you ever tried to avoid eating sugar? It’s in everything! The standard American diet incorporates sweet tastes into every meal of the day. For most, getting away from real sugar means switching to alternatives like xylitol, stevia or other artificial sweeteners. While they don’t carry the same caloric problems of regular sugar, do artificial sweeteners cause cavities or issues like gum disease too?

How Does Sugar Lead to Decay?

Regular sugar is known to be a catalyst for tooth decay, but it doesn’t do it directly. Instead, fermentable sugars act as food for bacteria on your teeth. The most common bacteria that turns into plaque is known as Streptococcus mutans. As bacteria feed on sugars left behind from candy, sodas and other sugary substances, they leave behind a waste that is highly acidic.

Over time, these acids wear away at the enamel protecting your teeth. Once through the enamel, acids from the bacteria, if you continue not to brush and floss, or acids from other foods will then directly wear through the surfaces of your teeth.

So, while sugar doesn’t decay your teeth directly, it is one necessary part in a system that leads to decay. Without sugars to feed on, bacteria cannot feed and thrive.

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Avoid This?

Artificial sweeteners are not fermentable. Essentially, bacteria cannot use them for food like they would natural sugar. Because they can’t use them as food, artificial sweeteners don’t contribute in any way to sustaining them. Without another source of food, the bacteria will die. This means you can replace natural sugars with artificial ones to protect your teeth.

So, when looking to specifically answer “do artificial sweeteners cause cavities,” the answer is no. However, it’s important to note that this does come with one major caveat:

Artificial Sugars Do Not Make Diet Pop & Similar Drinks Incapable of Causing Decay

The benefit of artificial sugars is that they don’t feed bacteria. However, the mechanism for decay when it comes to pop or many popular juices isn’t exclusively the sugar – it’s also the acidity.

Like waste from bacteria in your mouth, even diet pops or “sugar-free” juices are acidic in nature. For pop, this is due to the carbonic acid used to carbonate and store them in their cans or bottles. Juices, like orange juice, are naturally acidic simply due to the nature of the fruit they come from.

Even without real sugar, regularly consuming diet drinks is a fast track to cavities. In fact, the larger volume of acidity from drinking pop, along with the tendency to sip at them for long periods of time makes them potentially more damaging than bacteria left to feed off sugars.

Whether regular or diet pop, make sure to drink it quickly and consider rinsing your mouth with a glass of water afterwards. Quickly drinking an entire can of pop in a few minutes will do less damage than sipping at it over the course of a half hour. And when you drink water afterwards, you will wash away or at least dilute some of the acidic substance left behind.

Can Artificial Sugars Be Helpful for Oral Health?

Yes! In some ways, artificial sugars can be beneficial for you:

Quiet the Sugar Cravings

If you eat candies or drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners, you can often hold off on your cravings for real sugar. This has a benefit of protecting you from the risks of sugars and potentially reducing your overall chances of developing tooth decay.

However, it’s important to note that artificial sweeteners won’t do anything to alter your long-term cravings for sweet drinks and foods. The only way to quiet that craving for good is to cut sweets out entirely – real sugar or not.

Sugar-Free Gum Can Keep Up Saliva Production

Your best natural defender against cavities and gum disease is saliva. It helps balance the pH level in your mouth, wash away bacteria or food particles and generally keeps your mouth cleaner than if you didn’t have it. This is one reason that xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a worrying symptom that can spell trouble if left untreated.

Gum sweetened with artificial sweeteners helps stimulate saliva. If you chew gum, switching to sugar-free will make a major impact on your long-term oral health.

Xylitol Has Protective Qualities

Xylitol is a unique type of artificial sweetener in that it also works to fight bacteria-caused decay in addition to substituting for regular sugar. It has approximately half the calories of an equal amount of sugar and is used in foods like gum and pop.

While bacteria can’t feed off xylitol like they can regular sugar, they still try to absorb it. When they absorb xylitol, it prevents them from feeding off the glucose in other foods or drinks. This kills bacteria by essentially starving it.

Many dentists recommend using xylitol-sweetened gum over regular gum. Over time, it can reduce the total amount of unhealthy bacteria in your mouth by significant amounts.

Keep Your Smile Healthy

We want to help you maintain good oral health and a beautiful smile. Regular teeth cleaning and dental check-ups are an important part of your routine, just like brushing and flossing. Schedule an appointment with us or call and take the first step toward keeping your smile radiant.

Grosse Pointe Farms: (313) 881-2480

Shelby Township: (586) 803-8300

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