Moms and dentists have been drilling this idea into our brains for decades: Too much sugar will rot your teeth! It's trueÃ¢â‚¬”cavities do form when mouth bacteria convert sugars to tooth-enamel-eating acid. So moms around the world are rightÃ¢â‚¬Â¦eating less sugar is one way to reduce the risk of cavities.
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So are sugar alternatives safer? That's a big question mark, according to research just published in the British Dental Journal. The study authors conducted a systematic review of the literature on a class of commonly used sweeteners called sugar alcohol polyols, in particular xylitol and sorbitol. The review found that little evidence exists to show that sugar-free sweeteners are better than sugar when it comes to your teeth, and could even cause damage if ingested in combination with acidic additives like preservatives or flavorings.
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The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of xylitol in gum for its tooth-decay-reduction properties, and even the European Union, known to be even more stringent on food safety, declared it to be "tooth friendly." Xylitol is considered to be good for your teeth because it does not ferment into enamel-eating acid, it limits tooth-damaging bacteria in the mouth, and it bulks up beneficial salivary enzyme production, all good measures to reduce tooth decay.
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Whatever questions remain, xylitol is better than its cheaper counterpart, the second ingredient studied. Commonly found in gum, sorbitol readily ferments into tooth-eating acid. So until scientists figure out a definitive answer regarding the best sugar-free gum, to be on the safe side, opt for one sweetened with xylitol. One major note of caution, though: Be sure to dispose of any xylitol-containing gum or food carefully and out of reach of your pets. Although considered pretty safe for humans, xylitol causes a deadly, rapid drop in pooches' blood sugar.