What Do Artificial Sweeteners Do to Your Teeth?

Everybody knows that sugar is bad for your teeth. It’s the main culprit behind cavities. So, we use artificial sweeteners as a “healthy” alternative to sugar. But, you may be surprised to learn that they’re not as healthy as you think. Artificial sweeteners like sucralose are just as bad for your teeth as sugar.

If you have a sweet tooth, but you need to hold back on the sugar, artificial sweeteners sound like a great option. With diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and other artificially sweetened foods readily available, you’d think you’re doing your teeth a favor by opting for them over their sugar-filled counterparts.

But a low-calorie, sugarless substitute with no health consequences is just too good to be true.

In some cases, it can even be detrimental to your smile.

Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners can cause cavities and tooth decay. Find out how they affect your dental health, and what you can do to avoid damage.

Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners on Your Teeth

The Effects of Sugar on Your Teeth

The logic behind choosing artificial sweeteners over sugar to protect your teeth makes sense. Oral bacteria that cause cavities feed on sugar

The more sugar you eat, the more well-fed and effective these bacteria are at destroying your teeth. But, how exactly?

The bacterial microorganisms break down sugar and release acids that weaken the enamel of your teeth (the hard, outer coating). The bacteria, acids, food debris, and saliva combine to form a plaque that sticks to the surface of your teeth. 

The acids in the plaque dissolve the enamel, creating shallow holes called cavities. These can grow deeper over time as the decay spreads down to the pulp of the tooth.

Obviously, consuming excessive amounts of sugary food and beverages isn’t good for your teeth. So, why not trade sugar for artificial sweeteners to keep your teeth healthy without giving up your favorite dessert?

The Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Your Teeth

While artificial sweeteners don’t feed the bacteria on your teeth, they’re still bad for you. Artificial sweeteners like sucralose can cause cavities as well.

“There was no significant difference between the erosive potential of sugared and non-sugared soft drinks,” says a recent Australian study on the connection between your teeth and artificial sweeteners. They found that diet soda and sports drinks that use artificial sweeteners often do as much damage to teeth as those that have real sugar. 

Sugar-free drinks can actually soften dental enamel by 30-50%. After testing 23 different types of sports and soft drinks, they found that beverages that have low pH levels and contain acidic additives cause significant damage.

“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.

“Dental erosion occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. In its early stages erosion strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. If it progresses to an advanced stage it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth.” continues Professor Reynolds. Teeth are more susceptible to tooth decay when tooth enamel is eroded because it’s more prone to bacterial growth.

The issue is that artificial sweeteners don’t protect your teeth from the damage caused by acid. 

Although artificial sweeteners aren’t fueling the bacteria in your mouth to produce acids the way sugar does, sugar substitutes are often found in beverages and candies that contain potentially harmful acidic ingredients.

The greatest culprits behind tooth damage are citric acid and phosphoric acid. You can find them in sugar-free candies and colas for added tanginess. While they taste good, they also harm your teeth.

Is Sugar-Free Gum Bad for You?

Now for some good news: you can still have sugar-free gum, as long as you stick to minty flavors. The same study at Melbourne found that gum can stimulate saliva flow that rinses away acids and help re-harden tooth enamel.

So, while artificial sweeteners are bad for your teeth, the positive qualities of sugar-free gum can undo the damage.

List of Artificial Sweeteners That Are Bad For Your Teeth

In case you didn’t know, there are a TON of artificial sweeteners out there. Below you’ll find a list of common artificial sweeteners and their names that are bad for your teeth:

  • Aspartame: APM, Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester, Equal Classic, NatraTaste Blue, NutraSweet
  • Erythritol: Sugar alcohol, Zerose, ZSweet
  • Glycerol: Glycerin, Glycerine
  • Glycyrrhizin: Licorice
  • Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate (HSH): Sugar alcohol
  • Isomalt: Sugar alcohol, ClearCut Isomalt, Decomalt, DiabetiSweet {also contains Acesulfame-K}, Hydrogenated Isomaltulose, Isomaltitol
  • Lactitol: Sugar alcohol
  • Maltitol: Sugar alcohol, Maltitol Syrup, Maltitol Powder, Hydrogenated High Maltose Content Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Maltose, MaltiSweet, SweetPearl
  • Mannitol: Sugar alcohol
  • Polydextrose (Derived from glucose and sorbitol): Sugar alcohol
  • Saccharin: Acid saccharin, Equal Saccharin, Necta Sweet, Sodium Saccharin, Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin
  • Sorbitol: Sugar alcohol, D-glucitol, D-glucitol syrup
  • Sucralose: 1',4,6'-Trichlorogalactosucrose, Trichlorosucrose, Equal Sucralose, NatraTaste Gold, Splenda
  • Tagatose: Natrulose
  • Xylitol: Sugar alcohol, Smart Sweet, Xylipure, Xylosweet

Is Stevia Bad For Your Teeth?

If you read through the list of common artificial sweeteners that are bad for your teeth, you may have noticed that stevia wasn’t on the list. Does this mean that stevia is good for your teeth?

Surprisingly, yes. Stevia is a good alternative to sugar in terms of cavities. That’s because stevia doesn’t contain fermentable carbohydrates.  

Tips to Avoid Tooth Erosion and Decay Due to Sweeteners

If you have a sweet tooth, sweeteners are really hard to avoid. Follow these tips to lessen your artificial sweetener consumption. Every step in the right direction can lower your risk of cavities.

  • Drink healthier alternatives: Drink water or milk instead of soft drinks. Water can help make the surface of enamel harder. Milk is not erosive at all.
  • Avoid sports drinks: Sports drinks are bad for your teeth. With or without sugar, the acidity is bad for dental enamel. Water’s great for rehydrating.
  • Be wary of sugar-free candy: They usually contain citric acid that can have a serious impact on oral health. Always check the ingredients, and keep consumption to a minimum.
  • When you brush matters: Avoid brushing right after drinking or eating acidic foods and beverages. This can actually wear away the enamel with the combination of erosion and abrasion, especially when you brush too hard. Wait around 30 minutes before brushing and drink and rinse with tap water beforehand.
  • Always check the ingredients: Some acidic ingredients are coded on labels. Be sure to check for ingredient numbers 330 (citric acid) and 338 (phosphoric acid).
  • Keep up with regular dental checkups: This will help keep your teeth protected and help your dentist diagnose cavities as early as possible before serious damage is done.

artificial sweeteners and your teeth

When Is It Okay to Have Artificial Sweeteners?

Even if artificial sweeteners are bad for your teeth, there are some benefits to them. They’re definitely better than sugar if you have health conditions and goals. Here are a few examples of when it’s ok to eat artificial sweeteners.

Weight Control

If you need to avoid sugar to lose weight or control weight, then artificial sweeteners may be helpful. They are non-nutritive, meaning they have virtually no calories. Still, some research suggests that artificial sweeteners aren’t as effective as weight loss aids as you think. Be wary of them nonetheless.


Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners are not carbohydrates. So, they don’t raise your blood sugar levels. That’s why they’re often a good option for those who have diabetes. Still, it’s important to first check with your dietitian or doctor before using artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes.

Treat Tooth Damage Caused By Artificial Sweeteners For Less

It’s undeniable that artificial sweeteners are bad for your teeth. But, they’re increasingly hard to avoid, especially if you have a sweet tooth. If you do develop cavities due to artificial sweeteners, you’ll have to get treatment for them. Otherwise, you risk losing your teeth.

Still, a lot of people avoid going to the dentist due to the cost. But, that doesn’t have to be you.

You can save money on your cavity treatment with the best deal in dental!

With a Carefree Dental Discount Card, you can save on oral exams, x-rays, and fillings. Keep your teeth cavity-free by booking an appointment with a participating dentist today. And keep more money in your wallet. With Carefree Dental, you can save 15% - 50%* on dental procedures per visit in most instances. 

Become a Carefree Dental member today to experience the best deal in dental!


The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

Related Articles