In short, NO. “No added sugar” does not mean “sugar free”.
No-added-sugar drinks and foods still contain sugar so they still count as a sugar attack on your teeth, and can cause tooth decay.
Lots of companies have taken to using the term “no added sugar” to promote a healthy image for their products. The evidence linking sugar consumption with diabetes and obesity is convincing. Less sugar certainly sounds appealing, but this healthy image is misleading when it comes to the health of your teeth.
“No added sugar” causes tooth decay
When talking about the risk of dental decay, the emphasis should not be on whether sugar is added or “natural“. Nor should it be on the amount of sugar that ultimately is absorbed into your body. Instead the emphasis should be on whether the sugar is “free sugar” available for fermentation by plaque bacteria in the mouth.
This is because tooth decay is caused by plaque bacteria in the mouth fermenting free sugar, and producing plaque acid. The plaque acid demineralises teeth causing tooth decay and dental cavities.
The term “no added sugar” gives no information about whether there is any free sugar that could cause tooth decay. So products labelled as no added sugar likely do contain naturally occurring, free sugar that can cause tooth decay. If they did not contain any sugar, they would likely then be labelled “sugar free” or “zero sugar” rather than “no added sugar”.
How to avoid tooth decay
More frequent free sugar consumption presents more opportunity for plaque bacteria to ferment the sugar into plaque acid. The opportunity is also increased with sticky foods like dried fruit which stay on teeth long enough to slowly release free sugar over time.
So if you wish to avoid tooth decay, try to limit your sugar consumption to mealtimes. Between mealtimes, try to avoid sugary and sticky snacks as well as sugary drinks.
Safe drinks to have between mealtimes include still/unflavoured/tap water or sugar-free non-carbonated drinks, and tea/coffee without sugar.
Ideally try to avoid snacking between mealtimes by having good nutritious wholefood meals with slow-release energy like brown pasta, brown rice and other whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes. If you must snack, choose healthy sugar free foods like nuts and seeds, sugar free jelly, low fat humus, fruit and vegetables.