Sugar Free Drinks: Are They Safe for Teeth?

Man drinking juice in his kitchen

Diet sodas, 100% citrus fruit juices and other no-sugar-added drinks can be surprisingly bad for your teeth. It's true that consuming beverages that are lower in sugar decreases your risk for tooth decay, but drinking diet or sugar-free beverages doesn't remove the risk entirely.

Most people know that drinking sugary drinks can cause tooth decay, but you also have to watch out for a drink's acidity. The lower the pH of a food or drink, the higher risk for tooth erosion — this includes diet sodas, juices, energy drinks and others.

How Sugar-Free Drinks Hurt Your Teeth

Studies carried out in the Oral Health CRC on sugar-free beverages, sugar-free confectionery and sports drinks demonstrated that "many of these products contained multiple acids and had low pH values." Essentially, many people think that switching from regular to diet soda will keep their teeth healthy. Unfortunately, although they often contain no sugar, diet sodas usually cause about the same amount of dental erosion as regular sodas and can harm your teeth.

Additionally, while the sugar in regular soda and other sweet drinks forms harmful acid in your mouth, diet or sugar-free beverages also contain phosphoric acid, the same found in regular, sugary soda. Citric acid and tartaric acid are just some of the additional ingredients in diet drinks and fruit juices that can damage teeth. As you sip, ongoing acid attacks weaken tooth enamel, causing decay over time, says the Wisconsin Dental Association.

Opt for Teeth-Friendly Drinks

It's safe to assume you may not want to totally remove sugary drinks from your diet, but according to the American Dental Association, simply reducing the number of sugary beverages in favor of other options is a great step. Water, unsweetened tea, milk, plain sparkling water and diluted juice all have little or no sugar. Consider switching out a sugary drink with one of these choices.

Protect Your Teeth

Sugar-free drinks may cause dental erosion, but there are simple ways you can help protect your teeth. Brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste helps limit the effect these beverages have on your oral health, but it is recommended to wait 30 before brushing. It takes 30 minutes to an hour for saliva to return the mouth to a neutral pH, and brushing before this time can actually spread these acids.

The best time for drinking sugar-free drinks is with meals, whereas continuously sipping during the day will cause the most damage. Also, drinking through a straw can help minimize the acids' contact with your teeth.

After acidic meals or beverages, rinse your mouth with water, drink milk or enjoy a little cheese. Dairy and other calcium-rich foods can help neutralize acids. It's also good to limit snacking between meals so your saliva has time to rebalance its pH.

Cutting down on your sugar is a healthy choice to make, but it isn't guaranteed to protect your enamel. Be mindful of the acids in your drinks and take diligent care of your oral hygiene — and you should be on track for healthy teeth!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.