Kids love a sweet treat. Unfortunately, as most parents know, sugary snacks can cause cavities -- and that means a trip to the dentist for a tooth filling. While artificial sweeteners are sometimes recommended to help keep kids away from sugar, not every parent is happy with the idea of chemically-produced sweeteners. Now there's a natural sugar substitute that, on top of not causing cavities, actually prevents them!
Xylitol is now being used to sweeten some chewing gums and mints, and unlike sugar, it's good for your teeth. Found in many fruits and plants, xylitol is also produced by our bodies during metabolism. Xylitol resembles and tastes like sugar but has about a third fewer calories than its counterpart. An excellent sugar substitute for diabetics, xylitol has been used as a sweetener since the 1960s. But it was not until recently that scientists discovered how xylitol contributes to your dental health.
Chew On This for Fewer Dental Cavities
Sugarless gums can help stimulate saliva. This can help to wash away food particles when you can't brush after a meal. Gums and mints sweetened with xylitol take it one step further by actively battling the bacteria that cause tooth decay known as Streptococcus mutans.
These bacteria need sugar to grow -- while acid-causing bacteria feed on sugar and carbs, they cannot rely on xylitol to reproduce. Continued use of xylitol not only inhibits the growth of these organisms but also reduces the amount of bacteria and the formation of dental plaque over time.
Studies have shown that people who use xylitol consistently have significantly lower levels of decay-causing bacteria than those who don't. These same individuals also have fewer cavities. Based on these findings, xylitol is now being used in chewing gums, breath mints, throat lozenges, mouthwashes and syrups to help prevent tooth decay.
Not a One-Hit-Wonder
In order for xylitol to be effective, it must come in contact with your teeth several times a day for at least six months. Occasionally taking xylitol in large doses will not reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. The amount of xylitol needed to reduce dental plaque varies according to each study, but in general, it takes approximately 6-10 grams of xylitol to have an anti-cavity effect. It's recommended that you use xylitol products three to five times per day for up to a year to get results.
It may sound like a long time, but for most, chewing gum or sucking on flavorful mints isn't much of a chore. And it's definitely worth it -- some studies show that a long-term xylitol regimen continues to prevent cavities even after the xylitol is discontinued. And as an added bonus, xylitol can also help eliminate bad breath and remineralize tooth enamel.
Coming to a Store Near You
Until recently, most xylitol-containing products could only be found online, but commercial products are starting to catch on. You can now find xylitol in some of your favorite gums and mints at your local market.
While most of these products contain 1-2 grams of xylitol per serving, you should check the label to balance your intake. The amount of xylitol in each product varies, and some use other sweeteners in combination with xylitol. Although xylitol has been recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, too much xylitol may cause intestinal problems, including cramping, bloating and diarrhea.
Make Xylitol Part of Your Oral Hygiene Routine
The next time you give your child a piece of sugarless gum or candy, try one sweetened with xylitol.
Xylitol is a great sugar substitute for children who are prone to cavities as well as those who have a difficult time taking care of their teeth, including seniors and special needs patients. Regardless, xylitol candy and gum should not replace the need for regular oral hygiene. Even with the proper amounts of xylitol, brushing, flossing and regular dental visits are necessary to prevent tooth decay. If you have concerns about cavities, speak to your dentist about how xylitol might work for you. Need help finding one?