How Does Sugar Alcohol Affect Your Teeth?

Artificial sugar may not be as good as it sounds

Many new food products are being introduced to the market announcing that they are sugarless. As you look at the label, you find that many of them actually contain sugar alcohols. This has led many to ask: What is a sugar alcohol, and is it good for you? 


About Sugar Alcohol

Sugar alcohols are primarily a manufactured product that is made from other sugars. They do not contain any alcohol but have a chemical structure that is similar to sugar. Since they are sugar, they do contain calories but have a reduced amount. The most common sugar alcohols are xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol, and more. 


Comparison of Sugar Alcohol vs Sugar 

The first three in the list (xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol) can be found naturally in fruits and other plants. They are sweet like sugar, but some taste more like sugar than others. According to Healthline, xylitol has a minty taste but has about 40% of the calories. Erythritol has good taste and only five percent of the calories. Sorbitol is less sweet and has about 60 percent of the calories. Maltitol is the sweetest – making it taste more like sugar, but it only has about half the calories. 


How Sugar Harms the Teeth

Ordinary table sugar promotes cavities because the bad bacteria in your mouth feed on it. They use it to produce an acid that harms the enamel on your teeth, leading to cavities. The more sugar you consume in soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sweet foods, the more likely you will have cavities because of this connection. 

Most sugar alcohols are also not well absorbed by the body, which is why they provide fewer calories. This may be good for diabetics, but they need to account for the calories of sugar alcohol when calculating their calories. When eating foods with sugar alcohols in it, eating too many will often cause gas, bloating, or diarrhea. 


Why Sugar Alcohols Are Different

Sugar alcohols, although made from sugar, are not the type that the bad bacteria can feed on. They cannot digest it and turn it into acid. This means that while the sugar alcohol can sweeten your food or drink, it will not promote cavities. 

Another benefit that the sugar alcohols provide, especially xylitol, is that they help in remineralizing the teeth, the National Institute of Health reports. The acid the bacteria produce depletes the tooth enamel of minerals. Xylitol does not do this, but instead, it actually helps to strengthen the teeth by remineralizing them, which helps to repair the damage from the acid. 


The Products

Xylitol has a minty taste, which makes it ideal for many types of gum and candy. Gum made with it is excellent for the teeth because it produces more saliva, which helps to control the bad bacteria and repair teeth enamel. Various sugar alcohols may also be used in cookies, ice cream, candies, and puddings. 


The Catch

Even though many people eat or drink foods made with sugar alcohols, it will not benefit them if they eat many other foods that are made with real sugar. This compromises the benefit of the alternative sugars. The greatest benefit comes when you use food with sugar alcohols and reduce your real sugar intake as much as possible. 

This includes eating sugary snacks through the day and drinks with a lot of sugar in them. Sipping on coffee, tea, or soda with a lot of sugar in them all day only causes acid to be produced in high quantities all day long. This speeds up the process of decay and cavities will be the result. It is better to eat three meals a day with perhaps one snack, and brushing your teeth afterward, or at least rinse your mouth out with water. Eating a snack with a meal and brushing afterward will also help prevent cavities. 


The FDA and Sugar Alcohol

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not put its stamp of approval on sugar alcohols yet, as far as their properties of being able to prevent cavities. They want to see more testing performed on them before this will happen. The quantity of how much of it is needed to benefit is also not clear yet. 

The best way to help prevent the development of cavities is to eat healthy, and to carry out a regular activity of brushing teeth twice daily and flossing once a day. This helps remove plaque that builds up during the day on the teeth, and flossing will remove food particles and sugars from between the teeth. Rinsing your mouth out after eating or drinking sugary foods will also help. 

If you would like to learn more about sugar alcohol and its benefits, or need dental help to repair cavities, you can contact the offices of Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board-certified periodontist. The offices are located in the Carrollton, Dallas, Cedar Hill and Grapevine, TX areas. To make an appointment, call his office today at (214) 731-0123.