Tooth Decay (Dental Caries) is caused by the acid activity on the surface of the teeth. These acids are produced when sugars in the foods or drinks are metabolised by the plaque bacteria adhering on the surfaces of the teeth. Thus, sugar is well known as one of the causes of dental caries.
Sugar substitues (sweetening agents) are often used to overcome this problem. Sweetening agents are able to confer the sweet taste but at the same time they are safer for our teeth. Thus, substituting sugars in foods or drinks with sweetening agents does offer some dental benefits in term of caries prevention.
Sugar substitutes are divided into 2 categories, namely Non-nutritive Sweeteners & Nutritive Sweeteners. Non-nutritive sweeteners (also known as Intense sweeteners) are those which have no calorific value. On the other hand, Nutritive sweeteners (also known as Bulk sweeteners) are those which have calorific value.
What Are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners?
Non-nutritive Sweeteners (Intense Sweeteners) have sweetness many times higher as compared to the sweetness of sucrose. They impart sweetness but they furnish no calorific value to the human bodies. Thus, they cannot act as an energy source for the plaque bacteria in our mouth. No acid formation occurs and thus they are considered safe to your teeth.
There are 3 main types of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners available:
- Aspartame’s taste is closest to that of sucrose.
- It does not possess bitter taste.
- Saccharin is 300 times as sweet as normal sugar.
- According to some studies, Saccharin is considered safe for human bodies.
- However, Saccharin possess bitter taste and it offers metallic aftertaste.
- Acesulfame-K is chemically related to Saccharin.
- As compared to Saccharin, Acesulfame-K has improved aftertaste.
Non-nutritive sweeteners present in the form of tablet or granule form. Theses artificial sweeteners are commonly used in drinks. They could reduce the potential of caries development.
What Are Nutritive Sweeteners?
Nutritive Sweeteners (Bulk Sweeteners) are commonly used in confectionary. There are several types of Nutritive Sweeteners that are commonly used in the market:
- Sorbitol is half as sweet as Sucrose.
- Sorbitol is relatively inexpensive, thus, it is commonly used as sweetening agents in chewing gum, diabetic food products, sugar-free sweets, sugar-free medicines and toothpastes.
- It is less cariogenic as compared to Sucrose.
- Xylitol is obtained from coconut shells.
- Xylitol has laxative effect on human bodies.
- It possess anti-caries effect, which is helpful in the preventing the development of dental caries.
- Lycasin is obtained from the hydrolysis of com starch.
- Lycasin is commonly used in confectionery & pharmaceutical products.
- Isomalt is commonly used to make sugar-free chocolate.
The usage of artificial sweetening agents to substitute natural sugar in foods or drinks has become more common nowadays. However, there are still a lot of controversies regarding the absolute safety of artificial sweeteners to human bodies. Thus, it is advisable to always check the updated lists of approved sugar substitutes that are safe to the human bodies from FDA’s (Food & Drug Administration) official website.
Article written by,
Dr. Wong Kee Cheong (Tommy)
BDS (AIMST), MBA (SEGi), YCDP