The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners


7 minute read

What is the difference between saccharin and sorbitol? Brush up on your knowledge when it comes to artificial sweeteners.

What are artificial sweeteners?

This can refer to anything which is not refined sugar. There are a number of sweeteners both naturally occurring and those brewed up in a lab. Let’s break this down a bit.

Which sweeteners are natural?

The most natural form of sweeteners are naturally occurring carbohydrates. You might recognise these as glucose, fructose, lactose or molasses. 

They make up part of a balanced and healthy diet although do not specifically relate to any oral care products, as such. Rather your dentist may ask you to consider their moderation when it comes to your teeth and gums. 

You can find naturally occurring carbohydrates in many natural foods and drink including:

  • Cane sugar
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Honey
  • Vegetables

Types of artificial sweeteners

These are the ones that have been made synthetically. The methods of making these artificial sweeteners and the environmental impact aside, these types are the least beneficial for oral health and may even have adverse effects if not used in the correct amounts. 

Aspartame

This is the one most likely to be found in conventional or ‘big brand’ toothpaste. In fact, it can be found in over 5000 products, including drinks, sweets and chewing gum. There are debates surrounding the safety of Aspartame. The NHS website is keen to note that it is considered safe to use - although not necessarily healthy! Debate is ongoing about the adverse effects of this artificial sweetener including carcinogenic effects and genotoxicity. It’s cheap, which is why it’s regularly used in products including toothpaste. Those who suffer from a rare condition called phenylketonuria are advised to avoid aspartame. 

Saccharin

A petroleum derivative that has enjoyed a controversial history. Commonly found in diet soft drinks, saccharine has previously been banned in both the US and Canada amid concerns that it could be responsible for some types of cancer. Whilst these claims have been refuted by the WHO and the FDA, some experts still advise against the use of saccharine, arguing that more studies need to be undertaken to rule out any risk. Saccharine is often found mixed with other sweeteners, such as Aspartame, as it has a bitter aftertaste to it. Some agencies recommend avoiding this if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Sucralose

Also known as E955, sucralose is made by breaking down table sugar and undergoing a process of chlorination. It’s important to note that sucralose is considered safe by the FDA and WHO but as with other lab sweeteners, there remains some doubt over the overall safety. The environmental effects of sucralose have been called into question by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. However, the ecotoxicological effects remain unknown until further studies are undertaken. 

Plant derived 'artificial' sweeteners

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) are found naturally in fruits or vegetables or can be processed from other sugars like glucose or cornstarch. Unlike artificially made sweeteners, studies have shown that some sugar alcohols are beneficial in oral health and hence they are a popular choice in natural toothpastes. 

 

Xylitol

Both humans and animals make tiny amounts of this when processing carbohydrates. 

It’s also found in some fruits, vegetables and mushrooms but for the most part, it’s extracted from the bark of birch trees. There are obvious benefits to the environment from using this as an alternative to, say, saccharine, but where toothpaste is concerned, studies have shown xylitol to be beneficial in both fighting and preventing the bacteria that cause plaque and cavities. 

Truthpaste uses xylitol from non-GMO European Birchwood.

Find out more about xylitol and its benefits to oral health 

Sorbitol

Another ingredient in Truthpaste. Sorbitol is also found naturally in some fruits and vegetables but is also made commercially using potatoes or corn. It can be found as a sugar substitute in a great many products but is often used in oral care due to its ability to keep pastes moist and fresh. Research and studies on sorbitol have an abundance of ‘good bacteria’ (known as S. cristatus) that work to fight various bacteria that can cause cavities and caries.

The sorbitol in Truthpaste is made from French corn and wheat starches and is certified non-GMO

 Find out more about Sorbitol

Isomalt

Also found in some toothpaste, isomalt is derived purely from sugar beets. Like xylitol and sorbitol, it is also used as a sugar substitute in drinks, sweets and chewing gums. Some studies suggest that it can be beneficial in oral care for re-mineralising tooth enamel.

 

Mannitol 

Used as a sweetener in some oral care products and also found in modern medicine. This sweetener is derived from sugar (mannose) by a process of reduction. It’s found in almost all plants making it great for sustainability and it can be extracted directly from the source without the need for chemical synthesis. Similar to sorbitol, mannitol is good in oral care products as it is resistant to bacteria that can cause cavities or erode the enamel. 

 

Erythritol

Sort of the ‘new kid on the block’ when compared with some of the others on the list. Erythritol is naturally occurring in some fruits and vegetables and is also a by-product of the fermenting process in things like cheese and beer. Like its cousin, xylitol, it helps fight harmful bacteria when used in oral care products and prevents it from sticking to teeth and gums. Due to its texture, erythritol is often found in gels as opposed to conventional toothpastes. 

 

Which artificial sweeteners are best?

Where your oral care is concerned, it’s good to know what is going into your toothpaste and to make an informed decision on what is right for you. Since toothpaste is not ingested, many of the concerns regarding lab-made artificial sweeteners may be moot. However, at Truthpaste, we continue to look for natural alternatives to sweeten the brushing experience in as responsible and sustainable a way as possible.  




Resources:

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/are-sweeteners-safe/

Serkan Yılmaz and Aslı Uçar 2014, A review of the genotoxic and carcinogenic effects of aspartame: is it safe or not? Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 

Lean MEJ, Hankey CR 2004. Aspartame and its effects on health. BMJ. 329:755–756.

*S.I.R. Okoduwa; et al Accepted 07 June, 2013. The Metabolism and Toxicology of Saccharine Department of Biochemistry, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria, Department of Biochemistry, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Kogi State Nigeria Department of Animal Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria.

Measurements of Sucralose in the Swedish Screening Program 2007 Eva Brorström-Lundén, et al, NILU B1769 January 2008 

 Rafeek, R. et al (2018) Xylitol and sorbitol effects on the microbiome of saliva and plaque. Journal of Oral Microbiology

 Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives.(1982) Toxicological evaluation of certain food additives: sorbitol. Twenty-sixth report. WHO Technical Report Series 683, pp. 218-228. Geneva.

 Teo, G. et al, AM (2006). Silencing leaf sorbitol synthesis alters long-distance partitioning and apple fruit quality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

Tsutomu Takatsuka, Rob A M Exterkate, Jacob M ten Cate Epub 2007 Dec 20.Effects of Isomalt on enamel de- and remineralization, a combined in vitro pH-cycling model and in situ study, Clin Oral Investig 2008. 

Varzakas T, Labropoulos A, Anestis S (2012). Sweeteners: Nutritional Aspects, Applications, and Production Technology. CRC Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN 9781439876732. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017

« Back to Blog