If you weren’t aware, it’s not a great time to go to the dentist right now, so you should probably be doing whatever you can to keep your teeth and gums happy and healthy. As kids, it was absolutely hammered into our brains that sugar is bad for our teeth. As adults, though, it seems like dentists have basically just assumed we remembered that little factoid, when we all almost certainly have not given any serious thought to it in years.
In case you need reminding: Sugar is bad for your teeth because the bacteria in dental plaque metabolize the sugar and transform it into acid that decays the enamel. When it comes to the other bad side effects of sugar, like contributing to diabetes and obesity, artificial sugars aren’t all that much better. But are artificial sweeteners bad for your teeth, too?
Actually, this might be one of the only real benefits of artificial sweeteners. Because dental plaque doesn’t metabolize artificial sweeteners, they don’t produce the acids that cause tooth decay. In fact, according to a 2012 article from the New York Times, some artificial sweeteners may somewhat prevent tooth decay because they contain antibacterial properties. Some of these artificial sweeteners include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol and isomalt. Xylitol, in particular, is often found in sugar-free chewing gum.
For that reason, it’s definitely better to chew sugar-free gums over the kind that contain sugar. But when it comes to food and beverages, you shouldn’t let the potential dental benefits allow you to go overboard. Many artificial sweeteners can contribute to obesity, diabetes and poor gut health, just as regular sugar can. It’s an overall better decision to consume sweet foods and drinks in moderation, whether the sugar is real or not. This is especially true with beverages: Though diet soda may not contribute to tooth decay via dental plaque, it’s still acidic enough in itself to erode the enamel. This is true of juices and sports drinks like Gatorade, as well.
If you really don’t care at all about any of the side effects of artificial sweeteners except for the ones impacting your teeth, drinking through a straw will help. The American Dental Association also recommends drinking sugar-y drinks more quickly, rather than slowly sipping them over time. The longer your teeth are exposed to the sugar, the more time they’ll have to eat it up and produce acid.
Basically, if you care about your teeth and still want diet soda, you’re supposed to chug it through a straw as fast as you can. Enjoy the heartburn.