Dr. Sinkin's Blog: The Dental And The Incidental

Sugar Substitutes Can Cause Tooth Decay

March 7th, 2012 by

sugar substitutes, tooth decay, sugar-free products

Did you know that sugar free products could actually lead to tooth decay? Our image-driven culture and national obesity crisis has given rise to an entire industry of products containing sugar substitutes. Supermarkets are stocked full of sugar free products that supposedly reduce the possibility of tooth decay and weight gain. This includes diet soda, sugar free candy, and more. But few people realize that there is a relationship between sugar substitutes and dental health.

Most current sugar-free products contain one or more of these three substitutes: Sorbitol, Mannitol, Saccharine. These sugar substitutes can turn into teeth-attacking acids in the mouth. How are these acids produced? Here’s how it goes:

1. Carbohydrates and sugars become adhered to the tooth enamel and remain there if the teeth aren’t brushed.
2. Bacteria recognize the sugars as a potential food source and begin to feed upon it.
3. The bacterium begins to multiply as it consumes the sugar, expanding in numbers very quickly.
4. As the bacteria continue to feed, they convert the sugar into acid waste.
5. The acid waste begins to eat away at the enamel and causes tooth decay!

This process has proven to take place both with sugar substitutes as well as with ordinary sugar. Enter Xylitol. Xylitol is different than other sugar substitutes in that it cannot be broken down into acids by bacteria the way that Sorbitol, Mannitol and Saccharine can. This discouragement of bacteria growth greatly reduces the amount of acids that form on tooth enamel and actually helps prevent tooth decay.

  • Xylitol is used in dental health products because it can actually strengthen tooth enamel, resist decay-causing fermentation, and reduce plaque build-up.
  • Xylitol has tested to be a lot milder on the stomach than Mannitol or Sorbitol, so less embarrassing dashes to the bathroom.
  • Xylitol has the same weight-controlling features of other sugar substitutes.

Some small manufacturers and organic food producers are already using Xylitol in their products. Epic Industries in Utah, for example, touts a whole line of products, including gum and toothpaste. And Spry chewing gum also uses Xylitol as a sweetener. It might take a little research, but it is well worth the few minutes to consider your entire health when deciding which substitute sweetener to start phasing into your diet. Check Whole Foods or your local health food store.

So, beware of sugar substitutes. They’re not as safe as you may think.

Dr. Michael Sinkin has been practicing dentistry for over two decades. He truly cares about the experience his patients have and takes great pride in making them feel relaxed and comfortable during every visit. Come in for an appointment and experience a different kind of dental practice. You may even receive a healthy dose of Dr. Sinkin’s famous comic relief! To find out more about Dr. Sinkin, click here

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DISCLAIMER: The advice I offer in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, I am in no way offering a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation. My intent is solely educational and my responses to your actual questions serve as springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.

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4 Comments on “Sugar Substitutes Can Cause Tooth Decay”

  • Lisa March 7th, 2012 5:45 pm

    Wow, this is very interesting. You think you are doing good by switching to other products and in reality you are not. Great information. Will have to share.

  • Betsy Kent March 8th, 2012 8:59 am

    So, not only does diet soda expand your waistline (just read THAT recently) but also can lead to tooth decay? I also heard that the brown color in cola is bad for you, too. I am certain that Diet Coke has something in it that causes addiction.

  • eM November 7th, 2016 12:48 pm

    I am dyslexic so difficult to read all you have posted but may I ask is sorbitol and sodium sacharin are bad for teeth as I cannot understand why they are included in tooth paste. thanking you in advance.
    Kindest regards eM

  • Michael Sinkin November 8th, 2016 8:51 am

    Excellent question! Yes, sugar substitutes such as the sodium saccharin and sorbitol can be metabolized by decay causing bacteria to produce acids that will dissolved tooth enamel. However, the risk that these sugar substitutes pose to the natural dentin has much to do with quantity and frequency of use as well as oral hygiene practices. One must brush and floss to remove sugar substitute residue lest it becomes a bacterial feast. The sweeteners in toothpaste are brushed, scrubbed and rinsed off during the practice of cleaning the teeth and thus pose a minimal risk. I would like to see a change to xylitol, but with a good brushing technique, I think you are good to good.

    Thanks for you input,

    Dr. Sinkin

© 2008 Dr. Michael Sinkin, D.D.S.