A new chocolate product is the first to be endorsed by Toothfriendly International as being harmless to teeth, despite it containing sugar, the manufacturer claims.
Like many confectionery companies, Barry Callebaut is constantly trying to develop healthier chocolates without compromising on taste or product quality.
According to the company, the new chocolate has been given 'Happy Tooth' certification because instead of sucrose it contains isomaltulose, a natural constituent of honey and sugar cane, and is not detrimental to teeth and gums.
The company claims that the natural sweetener is digested slowly in the human gut, "resulting in a low gycemic and low insulimenic response," as well as being artificial free.
"Unlike sucrose, Isomaltulose is also toothfriendly and not a laxative," the company said.
The chocolate product underwent rigorous scientific testing which demonstrated that unlike many other chocolate bars, it does not depress the mouth's pH balance below the critical level of 5.7, said Barry Callebaut chief innovation officer Hans Vriens.
Toothfriendly International was granted charitable status in 2005 for its work in championing the health benefits of sugar-free confectionery.
The association uses a plaque-pH telemetry test, a standard scientific test used to assess tooth decay, before granting manufacturers the right to use the Healthy Tooth logo on the chocolate or confectionery product.
Kati Leskinen of TFI said last year that "unfortunately some confectionery products display sugar-free logos and labelling but still contain harmful acids and other ingredients which can be equally as detrimental to teeth."
"With the Happy Tooth label consumers are guaranteed products which are tooth-friendly, tested by independent scientific methods and backed by dental associations," she added.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), told confectionerynews.com that he supports the manufacturing of sugar free confectionery, explaining that the sugary additives and fillings in 'traditional' chocolate products can lead to the teeth being placed under acid attach for up to one hour.
"The greater use of sugar-free confectionery, as opposed to sugar-containing confectionery, should improve oral health," he said.
While the sugar-free trend is welcomed by dentists across Europe, some countries have latched on better than others, Carter added.
"In Spain some 70 per cent of confectionery is sugar free, but conversely, the UK is very poor, and we remain the largest confectionery consumers in the world," he said.
Many manufacturers have sought endorsement from Toothfriendly International, including Cadbury, Chupa Chups, Haribo, Nestle and Sara Lee, while in the UK some retailers, such as M&S, are also eager to cash in on the trend.
According to market analysts Euromonitor, sugar-free confectionery is one of the fastest growing confectionery categories in the UK. In the last two years alone sales of sugar-free confectionery chocolate have increased by 26 per cent to £229 million (€329 million) at the retail level.
Sugar-free confectionery accounts for an 18 per cent share of the Spanish confectionery market, followed closely by Finland, Norway and Germany, which all show similar statistics.