If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the chances are you are struggling between wanting to indulge it and not wanting to ruin your teeth.
But if the UK’s leading dental charity has anything to do with it, you won’t have to struggle for much longer – you’ll be able to reach for sweetly satisfying, sugar-free treats. There are already a few sugar-free sweets on the UK market, as well as many sugar-free chewing gums. Although we are traditionally the largest sugar confectionery consumers in Europe, with most of the leading manufacturers based here, the amount of sugar-free sweets is tiny – just 6% compared with 60% in Spain. The British Dental Health Foundation hopes to improve these figures, and is in talks with all the UK’s leading confectionery manufacturers and other sugar-free companies with a view to bringing more tooth friendly products to our shops.
But even if your favourite treat is loaded with sugar, you can still minimise the danger it poses to your teeth. This is because it is the frequency of sugar intake that is vital, not the amount. So several jellies, toffees, mints or even fruits eaten between meals throughout the day are worse for your teeth than, say, a Mars bar eaten with lunch.
The reason for this is that the bacteria in your mouth react with the sugar, causing acids which then lead to decay. Your saliva will wash away and neutralise harmful sugars and acids but it takes around 40 minutes to do this. If you are constantly nibbling or drinking sugary foods the saliva is unable to keep up, resulting in tooth decay. If your weakness is for frequent drinks throughout the day, try to drink water wherever possible. Many drinks, including flavoured waters, fruit juices, squash and fizzy pop, are acidic and will cause dental erosion, where the surface of your teeth is softened and worn away.
So if you must eat or drink sweet stuff, either ensure it is sugar free (low sugar or no added sugar still contains sugar), or indulge less often – at, or immediately after, mealtimes is ideal. You can also chew sugar-free gum after eating or drinking to help boost saliva production and prevent decay.