A new study found that while drinks and lollies labelled "sugar-free" reduce the risk of developing dental caries, they do not spare the teeth from damage.

People have become more conscious about their choice of drinks, considering the increasing evidence linking high sugar intake to medical conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Beverage companies acknowledged this popular notion very well and even and created "sugar-free," "low sugar" and "healthy" variants in their products. Some conventional beverages such as soft drinks, iced teas, fruit juices and vitamin drinks, as well as quick bites like lollies, lozenges and chewable treats now come in sugar-free packages. According to market analysts, this trend will last for a good period of time, with further enhancements in store for health-conscious consumers.

Although low-sugar products may reduce health problems including dental caries, consumers must still be informed that lots of these emerging products can carry possible harm to dental health because of its components.

Researchers from the Oral Health Cooperative Research Center at the University of Melbourne performed tests on 23 different kinds of drinks and discovered that products with enticing sugar-free labels consist of acidic additives, which means low pH - a factor recognized to cause damage to the enamel of the teeth.

"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," said Eric Reynolds, CEO of the Oral Health CRC. He added that if the condition progresses to its severe form, the soft parts within the tooth may be exposed.

The authors also found that most of the sports drinks and and soft drinks tested resulted in dental enamel softening by about 30-50 percent. For the eight sports drinks included in the study, the researchers found six that caused dental enamel loss. The other two drinks that did not cause the same finding had higher calcium content.

Drinks labeled "sugar-containing" and "sugar-free" produced almost the same results in terms of measurable loss of tooth surface. 

Reynolds said that products labeled "sugar-free" are not automatically safe for dental health. "We have even found sugar-free confectionery products that are labelled 'Toothfriendly' and which when tested were found to be erosive," he added.

The paper presenting the complete findings of the study can be found in the Oral Health CRC website.

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