Sugar-free drinks may be as damaging to your teeth as those that contain the sweet stuff. New research from the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, Australia, found soft drinks and sports drinks without sugar can cause measurable damage to tooth enamel.

Researchers found that sugar-free drinks that contain acidic additives and those with low pH levels led to softening of dental enamel by between one-third and one-half of normal. The team tested 23 different types of sugar-free drinks, according to Medical News Today.

"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,” said Eric Reynolds, a professor at Melbourne Dental School.

Sugar forms a plaque on the tooth surface that bacteria digest and convert to acid. This acid attacks teeth by dissolving outer layers of tooth enamel— therefore any acidic drink can also erode teeth, according to Medical News Today. If the damage progresses, it can expose the soft pulp inside the tooth, Reynolds said.

In their study, researchers also found that both sugary and sugar-free drinks— including flavored mineral water— cause a measurable loss of tooth enamel, with no significant difference between the two types of drinks. Six of eight of the sports drinks tested caused dental enamel loss.

Researchers suggested the following to protect teeth health:

- Look for acidic additives such as citric acid and phosphoric acid in the ingredient list of sugar-free products.

- After eating or drinking acidic products, rinse your mouth with water and wait for an hour before brushing. Doing so any sooner can remove the softened tooth layer.

- Chew sugarless gum after drinking acidic beverages— such as soda— on its own to increase saliva flow to neutralize the acid.

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