You may think the sugar-free alternative to your favourite soft drink or energy drink is healthier but tests on extracted human teeth reveal you may still be getting a raw deal.
The Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre has found a majority of soft drinks and sports drinks caused softening of dental enamel by as much as 30 percent to 50 percent.
"Both sugar-containing and sugar-free soft drinks (including flavoured mineral waters) produced measurable loss of the tooth surface, with no significant difference between the two groups of drinks," University of Melbourne Oral Health CRC chief executive Eric Reynolds said.
Although the absence of sugar gives consumers peace of mind, the substituted chemicals may leave your teeth exposed to high levels of phosphoric or citric acid instead.
The research is especially concerning for parents and schools who believe they are sparing their children's dental health with sugar-free substitutes.
“We’ve seen bad erosion in the teeth of children aged two to three-years-old, and signs of erosion in permanent teeth of older children,” said Reynolds.
"Banning sugar-containing beverages from schools may have positive health effects for reducing obesity, diabetes and dental caries but it may not reduce the risk of dental erosion.”
Large amounts of tooth erosion are also common in sportspeople and the Oral Health CRC says it’s almost always related to consumption of sports drinks, which can mask the taste of electrolytes with acids.
Sugar-free drinks and new sugar-free confectionery typically use acids to produce a sour or fruity taste.
Purchasers may be forgiven for being confused as research found the Toothfriendly International logo on many sugar-free confections tested with erosive results as well as a variety of potentially misleading messages like ‘sugar free for healthy teeth’, or ‘Kind to Teeth’.
"Manufacturers do have to list food acids in their products, but these are coded. How many of us are aware that 330 is citric acid?" said Reynolds.
The Oral Health CRC report calls for better consumer information and product labelling so people can make more informed decisions about their oral health when choosing food or drinks.
If you're drinking sugar-free drinks the advice to minimise dental harm is to avoid brushing your teeth after consuming such drinks as you may be scraping away layers of softened, vulnerable enamel.