A link between sugars and dental decay has long been established and is widely known by dentists and parents alike. Sugar-free beverages and candies, which are often perceived as healthier alternatives to sugar-laden sweets, present their own risks, though. The chemicals used to make sugar-free treats can cause dental erosion. Dental erosion may not be as well known as dental decay, but it’s equally serious, making the “healthy” sugar-free drinks and candies not as good as they may seem.
What is Dental Erosion?
Dental erosion occurs when acids dissolve the tooth's hard tissue. Early on, the surface layers of teeth can be stripped of their enamel. At advanced stages, the erosion can expose the softer dentin or even the inner pulp of teeth.
Dental erosion is a treatable condition, especially when caught early by an adult or kids dentist. If the damage is minimal, a fluoride treatment and prescription of digestible calcium may provide the protection and reinforcement that teeth need. If severe, fillings or crowns may be needed to replace the lost portion of eroded teeth. While dental erosion is treatable, it’s preferable to proactively prevent erosion from developing.
What Causes Dental Erosion?
The two main sources of dental erosion in kids are sugar-free sodas and sugar-free candies. Many kids consume large amounts of these, and the acids and chemicals in them are particularly harmful. Any beverage or food with a pH below 5.5 has the potential to erode teeth. According to a study published by Oral Health CRC, soft drinks can have pH levels as low as 2.4. Sugar-free candies aren’t any better. A study cited by the Oral Health CRC one looked at 32 sugar-free candies and found that 22 of them had a pH below 4.5.
Some of the chemicals used in these sugar-free treats multiply the eroding effect of the acids. Citrates and chelators, in particular, trap calcium. They bind to teeth and wash away molecules of calcium when they’re brushed, swallowed or spat from the mouth. Molecule by molecule, they physically remove teeth. Citrates, such as sodium citrate, are used in many sugar-free sodas and candies, especially lemon- or lime-flavored ones.
How Can Parents Protect Their Children?
Thankfully, there are several steps parents can take to protect their children’s teeth from these acids and chemicals. First, sugar-free sodas and candies should be recognized for what they are: sweet treats. As treats, they should be enjoyed occasionally, and preferably shortly before brushing. It’s all right to have a sugary or sugar-free treat once in awhile, but kids shouldn’t be constantly consuming either.
Second, all children should have regular checkups with a pediatric dentist. A kids dentist has both the expertise to assess your child’s teeth for dental erosion and the interpersonal skills to talk to your child about the risks of sugar-free beverages and candies in an age-appropriate and lighthearted manner.
To make an appointment with a pediatric dentist, call our office. We are accepting new patients, and would be happy to see your child.