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Consuming large amounts of added sugar isn’t recommended, but what about sugar alternatives? Evidence suggests that natural sugar alternatives may not only be better for your overall health but may also offer protective dental benefits.

Why Should You Choose Sugar Alternatives?

Eating a diet high in added sugar is common in western societies. It’s often found in things like desserts and baked goods, packaged snack foods and cereals, and even a number of beverages.

However, added sugar doesn’t offer nutritional benefits. When eaten regularly in large amounts, it may have negative effects on your overall health, such as increasing your risk for obesity and chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancers.

Consuming a lot of added sugar can also negatively impact your dental health. What does sugar do to your teeth and gums?

Studies have shown a relationship between high added sugar intake and a higher risk for cavities. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends limiting added sugar to less than 10% of your total daily calories.

Some research even suggests that sugar-free medicines should be prescribed to children to reduce the risk of dental decay.

Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy sugar alternatives available that you may want to consider when looking for ways to sweeten your diet. There’s even evidence that these other options may have protective effects on your dental health.

What are Natural Sugar Alternatives?

There are a growing number of natural and low sugar alternatives on the market today, that can be used in many of the same ways as table sugar, or sucralose.

Some of the most common sugar alternatives include:

  • Neotame
  • Monk Fruit
  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Xylitol
  • Stevia

These options are FDA-approved for use in commercial products and you’ve likely seen many of them in packet form at restaurants and sold in stores.

Other natural sugar alternatives include things like using pitted dates, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, banana paste, or agave nectar. You can use these options in place of table sugar for things like cooking, baking, and adding to beverages.

Natural Sugar Alternatives and Dental Health

Sugar alternatives may be a better option for helping protect your teeth and gums.

One of the sugar alternatives most studied for its impacts on dental health is xylitol. This is a sugar alcohol, a type of sweetener that doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like sucralose.

Sugar alcohols, particularly xylitol, have been observed to reduce the incidence of dental cavities when compared to other sugar alternatives. They’re often used in sugar-free chewing gum, which has been shown to help protect against cavities.

The reason natural sugar alternatives are better for oral health is that they are not fermented by the microflora of the dental plaque, meaning they don’t produce acid and promote the formation of cavities in the way sucralose does.

When sucralose is left in your mouth, bacteria feed on it and multiply, which eventually leads to tooth decay without proper dental hygiene. Xylitol works by adhering to the tooth enamel, causing the bacteria in your mouth to struggle to survive and proliferate and reduce the risk for cavities.

Other low-calorie or non-nutritive natural sugar alternatives can only be fermented by oral microorganisms to a very small degree, which is why they are a better choice for teeth and gums than regular sugar.

Stevia, for example, is extracted from plants and has been shown to have an anti-cavity effect. Monk fruit is another healthy sugar alternative that doesn’t have the same negative effects on oral health as table sugar.

Just remember that even though sugar alternatives are better for your dental health, they should still be consumed in moderation.

How to Protect Your Gums and Teeth

Curious about how to protect your gums and teeth? Keep in mind that there’s no substitute for regular dental exams.

Even though using natural sugar alternatives in place of added sugar may help reduce negative effects on your teeth and gums from a dietary standpoint, you should continue seeing your dentist for wellness checks and cleanings.

Additionally, eating a diet based primarily on healthy whole foods, like fruits and vegetables,  can also be good practice for protecting oral health. These foods only contain natural sugar and no added sugar.

Furthermore, if you’re wondering how to strengthen teeth and gums, practicing good oral hygiene habits, like daily brushing and flossing, are the best form of preventive dental health care.

References::

  1. Touger-Decker R, van Loveren C. Sugars and dental caries. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(4):881S – 892S.
  2. Bernabé E, Vehkalahti MM, Sheiham A, Aromaa A, Suominen AL. Sugar-sweetened beverages and dental caries in adults: a 4-year prospective study. J Dent. 2014;42(8):952-958.
  3. Hong J, Whelton H, Douglas G, Kang J. Consumption frequency of added sugars and UK children’s dental caries. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2018;46(5):457-464.
  4. Guidelines ask Americans to limit intake of added sugars. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2016-archive/january/new-guidelines-ask-people-to-limit-added-sugars
  5. Tandel KR. Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2011;2(4):236-243.
  6. Janket S-J, Benwait J, Isaac P, Ackerson LK, Meurman JH. Oral and Systemic Effects of Xylitol Consumption. Caries Res. 2019;53(5):491-501.
  7. Chewing Gum. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/chewing-gum
  8. Jaggi A, Marya CM, Oberoi SS, Nagpal R, Kataria S, Taneja P. Sugar substitute: Key facts for their use – A review. Journal of Global Oral Health. 2020;3(63):63-71.
  9. Janakiram C, Deepan Kumar CV, Joseph J. Xylitol in preventing dental caries: A systematic review and meta-analyses. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2017;8(1):16-21.
  10. Samuel P, Ayoob KT, Magnuson BA, et al. Stevia Leaf to Stevia Sweetener: Exploring Its Science, Benefits, and Future Potential. J Nutr. 2018;148(7):1186S – 1205S.
  11. Ma MS, Blanksma NG. [Stevia in the fight against dental caries]. Ned Tijdschr Tandheelkd. 2015;122(1):51-55.
  12. Is Monk Fruit a Healthy Sweetener? Published August 5, 2021. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-you-should-use-monk-fruit-sweetener/

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