Chewing gum, sweets, soft drinks, compotes, “sugar-free” products are considered to be a healthier alternative to sugary products. But on closer inspection, not really. Some sweeteners can damage teeth, cause stomach issues, and are ultimately unlikely to aid weight loss. That’s the conclusion of a study published in the British Dental Journal, a Nature Group review of polyols, a group of intense sweeteners commonly found in consumer products.
Polyols, a common group of sweeteners, are primarily used to make diabetic foods because they are not easily absorbed in the gut, and so may help reduce post-meal blood sugar swings. The study authors point out that polyols reduce the calorific value compared to sugar but are not calorie-free. Also, as they can accumulate, they can cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhoea.
This study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki (Finland), Boston University and the University of Southern Nevada in the United States focused on the oral effects of two polyols present in so-called “sugar-free” products. This meta-analysis of the various studies and data available on the subject gives interesting and contrasting results depending on the sweetener studied.
Xylitol, the least bad
Xylitol is a polyol that reduces the risk of tooth decay. Very present in chewing gum, xylitol has been approved by the European Union, in chewing gum, as a component favorable to dental health for its ability to reduce the risk of dental caries
Researchers show that xylitol has three properties that allow it to reduce the risk of tooth decay:
– Xylitol does not ferment in the mouth and therefore does not modify oral acidity
– It can limit the number of bacteria in the mouth by limiting the amount of sugars available, targets of bacteria,
– it can induce the production of salivary enzymes, which inhibit bacterial growth
Sorbitol increases the risk of tooth decay
The researchers explain that another polyol called sorbitol, more often used as a sweetener because it is cheaper than xylitol, causes acidity in the mouth which can lead to the erosion of tooth enamel. Indeed, unlike xylitol, sorbitol ferments easily in the mouth and modifies oral acidity.
Other risks associated with “sugar-free”
The study points to other risks linked this time to flavorings and preservatives often used in sugar-free products. Negative effects for dental health, including dental erosion, these additives in sugar-free products reduce the pH of saliva and therefore can weaken tooth enamel.
The researchers therefore conclude that polyols can for some reduce the incidence of dental caries but that sugar-free products present, in general, a risk for dental health because of the acid flavors they contain. Finally, the “sugar-free” claim can generate a false sense of security because people may believe that sugar-free products are safe for the teeth.
Source: British Dental Journal 211, E15 |