New Year’s Resolutions – Time to lose the sugar?
Ah, January…time for a fresh start. 2019 will be the year we make better choices, eat well, make up for our holiday indulgences—at least until mid-January. We don’t expect you to give up sweets for good but knowing which sweeteners are the best for your teeth may help you make better choices overall. While some culprits may be obvious, (cane sugar, corn syrup) others sweeteners that seem healthier, may not be the best choices for your smile. Read on to find out some sweet alternatives if you’re trying to kick the sugar habit this year, and what “healthy” sweeteners to limit when it comes to achieving your best dental check-up yet. Let this be the year to show off your smile…
How does sugar cause cavities?
Let’s start with the basics of why sugar is bad for your teeth. Cane sugar, one of the leading causes of tooth decay, causes a sticky plaque to form on your teeth. The bacteria living in your mouth thrive on these broken-down sugar particles and produce acid attacking your teeth, and causing cavities.
To reduce the impact on your oral health brush and floss regularly, particularly after meals or snacks or consume low-sugar or no-sugar items and be sure to regularly visit your dental hygienist.
Are natural sugar alternatives better? Is honey as bad for your health as sugar?
Natural sugar alternatives to sugar include: honey, maple syrup, beet sugar, and coconut sugar to name a few. While all are better for your overall health than sugar, being for the most part less refined and containing minerals some are better than others.
Honey and maple syrup: For overall health, honey and maple syrup, are far superior choices to cane sugar, as they contain minerals such as potassium and magnesium and raw honey is known for its anti-bacterial properties. According to healthyeatingsfgate.com, locally-produced fresh honey can help ease allergies, and pure manuka honey can help heal wounds and kill infections, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It’s easy to digest and contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals not found in refined sugar. These sugars break down more slowly than sucrose, into glucose and fructose, which can have less of an effect on blood sugar as well. (Note: Honey should never be given to children under the age of one as it can contain a spore that can be deadly to developing immune systems.)
Unfortunately, none of these health benefits extend to your teeth. These natural sugars still contribute to acids forming on your teeth. In other words, it still acts like sugar and you should limit your intake.
Coconut sugar: Coconut sugar undergoes little processing so it retains some of the natural vitamins, minerals (notably iron, zinc, calcium and potassium), fibre (inulin) and antioxidants that refined sugar does not. However, it is many sucrose and still contains high levels of fermentable carbohydrates so are not good for your teeth.
Beet sugar: This is derived from beets but is highly refined, making it not much better than regular can sugar. It’s a poor choice for oral health.
Are artificial sweeteners a better choice than sugar?
Since tooth decay is caused by acidogenic bacteria that use fermentable sugars such as sucrose, fructose and glucose, artificial sweeteners like the natural best choices above act more as proteins and don’t cause this acidic reaction. To your teeth anyway. While artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, and sucralose appear to have no negative impact on oral health many are still concerned about the impact on overall health, eschewing chemically based alternatives. In recent years the debate over whether or not these sweeteners contribute to cancer is still troubling, and artificial sweeteners have been shown to interfere with the endocrine system affecting the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Many believe it also negatively impacts intestinal bacteria which has come to light in recent years as being a major indicator of overall health.
What are the best sweeteners for your teeth? Which sugar alternatives are the healthiest?
Some natural sweeteners have health benefits and are still good for your teeth. Here are the top four:
Monk fruit: or Luo Han Guo– is a melon-like fruit found indigenously (and almost exclusively) in southeast Asia, which has become popular as a sugar alternative over the past few years. Like honey, monk fruit reduces allergenic responses and is antimicrobial and is gaining attention for being anti-diabetic, and anti-cancerous. According to Dr.Jockers, monk fruit is high in antioxidants, improves blood sugar regulation and reduces the side effects of high cholesterol as well as providing other health benefits. It is generally recognized as safe and does not appear to have a negative impact on oral health.
Stevia: Stevia doesn’t contribute to tooth decay as like monk fruit it isn’t a fermentable sugar, and more closely resembles protein. It is generally recognized as safe. One thing to watch out for according to Lifehacker.com, is that many stevia-based products still contain sugar, like Coke Life. They have less sugar than the original and contain stevia, but also contain sugar, which means it will produce the acids harmful for your teeth. Use stevia alone or not at all.
Xylitol: A natural alternative most dentists can agree on is xylitol, derived from corn cobs or birch trees, though most natural health experts prefer the birch version. Most tolerate this sweetener and it doesn’t cause cavities. High in calcium it may improve your oral health by re-mineralizing teeth. Many natural toothpastes are now formulated with xylitol, and some studies have found the sweetener to be more effective at preventing cavities than fluoride. Replacing sucrose with xylitol in the diet reduces your risk of cavities as it inhibits the growth of bacteria and isn’t highly fermentable, so it doesn’t provide a food source to bacteria. The two cautions with this sweetener are: xylitol can be toxic for canines so keep it away from pets, and since it is a sugar alcohol too much can cause digestive upset in some people.
Erythritol: Erythritol is a virtually non-caloric, aftertaste-free sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fruits such as melons, pears, and grapes. About 70 percent as sweet as table sugar, whose taste it resembles, erythritol comes in white crystalline powder form and is a common ingredient in foods, especially baked goods, labeled as “light” and “low-calorie.” Studies show that up to 90 percent of erythritol is excreted unchanged in human urine within 24 hours of consumption, thus it’s not absorbed into the body, and that, like stevia, it does not harm teeth. Again, like xylitol it can cause digestive upset when consumed in large quantities.
Cutting out sweets and eating healthier is an obvious choice for a new year’s resolution and it is a good idea for improved health. Regular refined table sugar and corn syrup are the worst offenders when it comes to oral health and should be greatly limited. Having treats with the better alternative sweeteners listed in this post or limiting sugary snacks between meals and rinsing your mouth afterwards may also be helpful. We hope this post will help you keep one of your resolutions this year and we wish you a happy, healthy, sweet 2019.