As much as we all enjoy junk food and sugary beverages, most people try to stay away from them, conscious of the negative consequences too much of them can have our teeth, waistlines and general health. But sadly, the “healthier” alternatives are rarely as good for us as advertisers would have us believe. Many of these products can be just as bad for our teeth as what they’re meant to replace.

Can “Sugar-Free” Foods Actually Be Bad for Your Teeth?

A swath of products on the market would have you believe that it’s easy to enjoy the same types of foods and beverages you love while skipping out on the health risks. Crazy about Coca-Cola? Just switch to Diet Coke! A sucker for sweets? Grab the sugar-free option in the enticing-looking packaging.

Unfortunately, sugar isn’t the only thing we should be worried about when it comes to our teeth. Diet sodas typically contain no sugar, but have been demonstrated to do just as much harm to tooth enamel as their ultra-sugary counterparts. This is because diet sodas still contain high amounts of tooth-eroding acids like phosphoric acid, carbonic acid and citric acid. Another culprit when it comes to citric acid? Fruit juice. That’s right — even wholesome, no-sugar-added 100% fruit juice can be dentally detrimental.

The same goes for sugar-free snacks and treats. Most products made with artificial sweetener still contain the same dangerous blend of acids. Used to mimic natural flavors or create “tanginess,” these acids are often found in fruit-flavored candies.

Why Acids are Bad for Teeth

What makes these acids so bad for us? It helps to understand how exactly our teeth are harmed in the first place. Sugars are unhealthy because they are consumed by bacteria in the mouth, which then create acidic substances that wear away at the tooth enamel and eventually cause cavities. The less sugar you eat, the less acid will be created by the bacteria — but if you replace sugary foods and drinks with highly acidic ones, the results are the same.

What Foods are Good for Your Teeth?

One sugar-free choice that is healthy — and can help undo some of the damage from consumption of other artificially sweetened products — is gum. Chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which blocks the harmful effects of acids and washes them away from the surface of the teeth.

Closing Thoughts

So if you, like most people, can’t bear to give up your sugary vices altogether, chewing gum frequently is one of several actions you can take to mitigate the impact on your dental health. Sipping beverages through a straw can minimize the amount of sugars and acids that make contact with your teeth. Other recommendations include visiting the dentist regularly and brushing your teeth often. However, note that it’s not recommended to brush your teeth immediately after consuming sugary or acidic food and beverage, as this could speed along the wearing-away of your already weakened enamel.

No one can manage to stick to a diet that’s 100% perfect, but with greater awareness and a dedication to good dental care, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it (with strong, healthy teeth, that is) too!