“Sugar-free” does not necessarily mean they are harmless. An expert from University of Melbourne’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre points out that reducing sugar intake does not reduce risk of dental decay. The research centre released a briefing paper on Thursday that warns people of the chemicals in artificially sweetened drinks.

"Many people are not aware that while reducing your sugar intake does reduce your risk of dental decay, the chemical mix of acids in some foods and drinks can cause the equally damaging condition of dental erosion," says Professor Eric Reynolds, chief executive of the research centre, reports News.com.au.

The briefing paper has been released in response to concerns about obesity and the common perception that “no sugar” means safe for teeth.

Researchers in their study tested 23 different drinks including sports and soft drinks as well as sugar-free confectionary. It was found that drinks that contain acidic additives with low pH levels cause damage to a person’s dental enamel even when they are sugar-free.

"Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth," Reynolds said, adding that in early stages erosion destroys tooth enamel’s surface layers and in advanced stages of erosion, it exposes the soft pulp inside the tooth.

One in three children is suffering from dental erosion, Reynolds warns. As more and more sugar-free products are being released in the market, the problem is becoming more pervasive.

All consumers must be aware of the fact that food acids are listed in the ingredient code and sugar levels on products. If sugar-free confectionary tastes tangy, it probably contains citric acid (code 330). If it is mint-flavoured, it generally is neutral. Code for phosphoric acid is 338.

According to The New Daily, an Australian Dental Association spokesman said that those who drink lot of the sugar-free drinks, sips them slowly or drinks in dry mouth are at a greater risk of enamel erosion. Saliva protects against erosion.

The key is to have diet drinks quickly and infrequently and have them in moderation. Drinking fluoridated water is beneficial and rinsing mouth thoroughly after intake is essential to wash away the acid from the mouth. One must wait at least an hour before brushing teeth after diet drink intake.

Brushing and flossing teeth twice a day and never drinking sugar-free drinks before bed must be followed routinely. Sipping diet drinks with a straw is preferred as it exposes teeth less to the acid.

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