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Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You and Your Teeth?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Are artificial sweeteners bad for you and your teeth, or are they a healthy option for your diet and your health?

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, consuming excessive amounts of sugar can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and type 2 diabetes — and sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the biggest culprits of packing extra sugar into your diet. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also explains that sugar increases your risk of tooth decay and cavities. In light of these adverse health effects, you might be considering using alternative sweeteners in your morning coffee or other beverages. But before you make the switch, it's important to know how artificial sweeteners can affect your teeth and your health.

Sugar and Your Teeth

A study published in Brazilian Oral Research notes that sugar (sucrose) is the most cariogenic of all carbohydrates, meaning that it's the one most likely to cause tooth decay. As the NIH points out, the bacteria in your mouth break sugar down into acids. Those acids combine with bacteria, saliva and food to create plaque, a substance that sticks to your teeth and wears away at your tooth enamel, eventually creating cavities.

What's the Difference Between Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners?

One of the benefits of artificial sweeteners is that they can add sweetness without the calories of sugar. A study in the International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology (IJBCP) notes that non-nutritive sweeteners (also known as artificial sweeteners) are often considerably sweeter than sucrose. Stevia and saccharin, for example, are about 300 times sweeter than sucrose while sucralose is 600 times sweeter.

If you're looking to sweeten a beverage or snack and consume fewer calories than you would using sugar, you have several options available. Some common artificial sweeteners include:

  • Aspartame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia
  • Acesulfame K

Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Your Teeth

Unlike regular sugar, artificial sweeteners are considered non-cariogenic, meaning that they don't contribute to tooth decay, as the IJBCP study points out. An article in the British Dental Journal also notes that sucralose, in particular, has no effect on tooth decay.

According to the IJBCP study, artificial sweeteners may have an anti-cariogenic effect — not only do they not contribute to tooth decay, but they may work against it. When you eat or drink something with sugar, the pH in your mouth drops due to an increase in acidity. Artificial sweeteners seem to have the opposite effect, which may help to balance your salivary pH and decrease the amount of decay-causing bacteria in the mouth.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You?

Artificial sweeteners provide some benefits for your oral health and teeth. Does this mean that you should swap out any foods and drinks containing added sugar with foods and drinks containing non-nutritive sweeteners? Not exactly. While cutting back on sugar is definitely a smart thing to do, you might not want to add an artificial sweetener to everything.

As Harvard Medical School notes, if you trade a sugary soda for a diet soda sweetened with sucralose or aspartame, you're simply replacing one nutritionally questionable drink with another. The diet soda won't give you extra calories, but it also won't deliver the nutrition your body needs. The Wisconsin Dental Association also points out that diet sodas and soft drinks have their own acids, which can wear down enamel and contribute to decay.

At the end of the day, you should discuss any questions or concerns you have about your oral health and oral care routine with your dentist. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing regularly will help to minimize your risk of tooth decay — whether you decide to add regular sugar, sucralose, aspartame or nothing at all to your morning coffee.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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