Stevia is a sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudina local to Brazil and Paraguay. Used for centuries to sweeten yerba mate tea and as a folk remedy for symptoms of hypertension, this plant also has another incredible benefit: it can help reduce cavities.
Amid a myriad of research conducted in the past five years, much of which has been systematically reviewed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the results have become clear. Excessive sugar is bad for your teeth. Yet Americans are eating between 150 to 170 pounds of it per year.
Because of this, finding reliable sugar substitutes can help dentists such as ourselves continue to practice holistic dentistry focused on prevention rather than restoration.
How Does Stevia Help Prevent Cavities?
Tooth decay is a multifaceted process that requires two main ingredients: specific bacteria already residing in our mouths, and fermentable carbohydrates such as sugars and starches. When the two meet, the bacteria metabolizes these carbohydrates into organic acids which will begin the erosion of enamel.
Although stevia extract is sweet, it does not contain fermentable carbohydrates. A study published in the journal Caries Research concluded that Stevia can be considered nonacidogentic, and therefore appropriate to support dental health.
Is Stevia Safe?
With the rise of sugar substitutes like Stevia or Xylitol come concerns about their safety. The good news is that all commercially acceptable sugar substitutes have gone through the rigors of research and testing, and come out the other end with minimal health concerns. Many highly refined varieties of stevia are considered by the FDA as safe.
However, it’s important to note that not all stevia products are the same, and some do carry side effects like diarrhea. And it is also important to remember that overconsumption of anything can have potential health consequences, so it’s good to consume stevia in moderation, too.
For Patients suffering from diabetes, working with your doctor to develop a diet which includes stevia instead of white sugar can be extremely helpful. According to an article published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, diabetic rats consuming stevia instead of sugar significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels.
A Balanced Diet Is Best
Although stevia extract is less harmful to your oral health than sugar, the truth is that eating healthy foods and restricting your sugar intake to 30g per day is best. Unfortunately, when it comes to the health of our bodies and our teeth, there is no substitute for strong hygiene and healthy food.