Are Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks Healthy for Your Teeth?

sugary foods

It’s common knowledge that sugary foods and drinks aren’t healthy for your teeth. Because of this, many people assume consuming sugar-free foods and drinks is a better choice — but is it?

In this article, we’ll run through how sugar affects your teeth, and whether sugar-free foods and drinks are healthy alternatives. The answer may surprise you!

How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?

When you consume a sugary food or drink, the bacteria in your mouth eat the sugar and multiply rapidly, producing plaque that sticks to your teeth. Then, the bacteria eat the plaque and multiply, producing acid that attacks your teeth. 

Dentists call this process an “acid attack”. These acid attacks deteriorate your tooth enamel, weakening it and leaving it prone to cavities and decay. Acid attacks start as soon as you start eating or drinking, and can last up to 30 minutes after you’re done. That being said, if you casually sip or chew on something sweet and it takes you a while to finish it, the attack is prolonged and can cause more decay. 

Are Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks Healthier for Your Teeth?

Surprisingly, no. Buyer beware: we don’t usually recommend them over regular sugary foods. 

While sugar-free foods and drinks don’t have any sugar, the sugar is usually replaced with preservatives and flavor substitutes that can be just as harmful — if not more harmful. This is because the substitutes can naturally make the mouth more acidic, which leaves your enamel more prone to tooth decay. 

The worst offenders? Sugar-free drinks like sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and beer

What Are Healthy Alternatives to Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks?

To avoid the dental problems that come with sugar-free foods, you can just try to consume regular sugary foods in more moderation. Or, you can try some of these natural low-sugar alternatives:

Healthy Low-Sugar Foods

There are some foods that build strong teeth, either because they naturally have low or zero sugar, or they have plaque-fighting properties. 

  • Dairy products – Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products increase saliva production, which can reduce plaque buildup. Also, they contain calcium and phosphates that replenish the minerals in your teeth and rebuild tooth enamel. 
  • Sugar-free gum – Sugar-free gum is the only healthy sugar-free food option. This is because it increases saliva production and helps dislodge food particles from in between your teeth. 

Healthy Low-Sugar Drinks

The following drinks contain either low or zero sugar and are healthy alternatives to sugar-free drinks:

  • Water or sparkling water
  • Unsweetened tea
  • Milk
  • Diluted juice

Other Tips to Protect Your Teeth From Sugar

Aside from changing your dietary habits, there are some other things you can do to protect your teeth from sugar-related decay.

  • Maintain good oral hygiene habits – Brush your teeth twice per day, and after you consume an especially sugary food or drink. 
  • Drink through a straw – This can help prevent the sugar from ever contacting your teeth. 
  • Avoid casual snacking – Eating your meals in a short period of time, rather than snacking throughout the day, can help prevent prolonged acid attacks. 

An important part of dental care is the dental cleaning visit! Schedule your appointment with Dr. Mogren and we’ll make sure your teeth are clean and healthy.


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