Xylitol and cavities

Are you struggling to help keep your family cavity-free? Does it feel like no amount of hygiene, or healthy diet, is enough to keep bacteria from causing damaging acid erosion? It seems to some people that the benefits of xylitol are being overlooked. Considering that over 25 percent of American children from 2 to 5 years of age suffer from tooth decay, 50 percent between 12 and 15 years of age, and that Americans miss 51 million hours of school and 164 million hours of work because of dental problems, if there is a relationship between xylitol and cavities, why isn’t it being announced from the rooftops? Here is what we found out about xylitol.

Some people, including children, are more susceptible to cavities than others. This makes it difficult for them to avoid painful decay that can make teeth vulnerable to infection. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent cavities. Some people just require more aid than others in that endeavor. If you are looking for added ways to help protect your smile, or your family’s, have you heard of a product called xylitol? It shows promise as a means of helping to protect the teeth from acidic erosion, including dental caries.

What Is Xylitol?

Xylitol is an all-natural sugar substitute. It is not a chemical substance such as Splenda®, sucralose, or aspartame. Xylitol is found in fruits and vegetables such as mushrooms, lettuce, and berries.  Your body also produces up to 15 grams of xylitol a day during the metabolization of other food sources. While providing the same sweetness as sugar, xylitol has 40 percent fewer calories and does not raise blood pressure. The use of xylitol as a sweetener in food has been deemed safe by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Xylitol Helps Strengthen Enamel

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the fibers of fruits and vegetables. It can be extracted from foods like berries, oats, mushrooms, and fibrous substances like corn husks, birch, and sugar cane bagasse. So how is xylitol healthy for your teeth? Xylitol is a non-fermentable substance, meaning that it does not attract bacteria for formation of harmful plaque. Instead, xylitol attracts the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, called streptococcus mutans, and starves the harmful microorganisms.

While xylitol assassinates bacteria, the teeth have an uninterrupted opportunity to benefit from another aspect of the sugar alternative, enamel remineralization. By increasing the mineral strength of the enamel, the tooth has better defenses against plaque and decay. In fact, in a Finnish study in 1970, participants who chewed gum made with xylitol had less than half as many cavities as patients who chewed gum made with sucrose. This amazing sugar substitute is not perfect for all foods. Xylitol also attracts and starves the bacteria necessary for yeast to rise, making xylitol unsuccessful with some baking.

Can Xylitol Protect Your Teeth from cavities?

Our mouths are rife with bacteria, over 700 strains. Most of the bacteria in our oral cavity are harmless. However, streptococcus mutans is a harmful bacteria and the major cause of tooth decay. Steptococcus mutans consume the sugars, starches, and leftover food debris on our teeth and in our mouths.  As the bacteria metabolize these sugars and starches, it produces acids that eat away at tooth enamel, causing decay. As the bacteria metabolizes, it also replicates creating more bacteria which in turn produce more acid. Numerous professional dental studies on the effects of xylitol have indicated that:

  • It can reduce the harmful bacteria streptococcus mutans in plaque and saliva by as much as 90 percent
  • Reduces adhesion of bacterial plaque to teeth
  • Decreases the acid production of harmful bacteria
  • It disrupts the energy production of streptococcus mutans resulting in cell death

Xylitol has been in use in European countries since World War II, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Finland began using it as a dental agent for caries prevention. Finland incorporated a national program publicizing the use of xylitol chewing gum among children to reduce tooth decay. Chewing sugar-free gum, including those containing xylitol, can actually help to gently clean the teeth’s surface between brushings, too. So while chewing gum is no substitute for proper hygiene, including brushing and flossing, it can be a helpful addition to one’s daily routine. If you want an extra way to help protect your family’s smiles, consider making xylitol-containing products an addition to your next grocery list.

More Studies on Xylitol and cavities

A comparison between a control group that chewed no gum, and children who chewed xylitol gum for three weeks or more, showed that consuming xylitol decreased the production of streptococcus mutans in saliva and plaque both short term and long term–up to five years after the xylitol study was completed.  Other studies showed that xylitol:

  • Is most effective on newly erupting teeth
  • Can decrease tooth decay in children when used daily for 12 to 40 months
  • Used by pregnant mothers reduces the production of streptococcus mutans and tooth decay in their children
  • Is effective in other forms such as mints, hard candy, and toothpaste
  • Given in syrup form of 8 grams per day to children 15 to 25 months of age, reduced tooth decay by 50 to 70 percent
  • In the form of lozenges at a total of 5 grams per day, decreased tooth decay in 10-year-old children by 35 to 60 percent.
  • Raises the pH in saliva. With a pH above 7, saliva can remineralize (heal) tooth enamel, stopping decay
  • Decreased ear infections by 40 percent by preventing bacterial growth

What Parents Should Know

Taken at therapeutic levels xylitol to prevent cavities is perfectly safe and effective for children. The recommended dose is 3 to 8 grams daily. This is about one can of soda per day. High doses of xylitol can cause gas and osmotic diarrhea. These symptoms will disappear once the dosage has been regulated. To avoid these side effects introduce the use of xylitol slowly over a week or ten days, particularly in young children.

Learn more about Xylitol and cavities

Aside from providing expert general and cosmetic dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is a former Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from Chicago and all surrounding communities. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.