Xylitol is a word you may have only seen on gum packages, but it looks like the naturally-sourced sweetener is much more than a sugar substitute. While the body of research is still in its earlier stages, there is good evidence so far to suggest that it can be a beneficial tool for maintaining oral and dental health. In one 2014 study, researchers at the NIMS Dental College and Hospital in Rajasthan, India called the results “literally worth salivating over.”
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is the name given to a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in various plants. The xylitol used in consumer products comes primarily from plant sources like corn or even birch trees.
• Pure xylitol is a white crystal that already looks very much like sugar, and has its sweetening effect in foods and beverages.
• It occurs naturally in the body as a result of normal metabolism – up to 15 grams per day for an average sized adult.
• Today, you’ll find it widely used as a sugar substitute in things like candy, mints, gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash.
• It is also sold in bulk, like sugar, as a sweetener.
• It’s hardly new, although a serious investigation of it is, in relative terms. It was first used in chewing gum in Finland in 1975, followed not long after by North America.
While some of the results have been conflicting over the long term, there is solid research that xylitol reduces the risk of tooth decay, and can even reverse the process if caught early on. Xylitol has many beneficial properties, and has been recognized for use in oral care by Health Canada, and the US Food and Drug Administration.
• 40% fewer calories than sugar;
• Natural, and safe for all ages;
• Its benefits seem to increase the more you use it, and may even be permanent.
How does it work?
• When sugar breaks down, it forms sucrose, glucose, and fructose. That does not happen with xylitol.
• Basically, sugar feeds the bacteria. As they consume sugars, the bacteria excrete the acids that cause tooth decay.
• The bacteria cannot metabolize xylitol in the same way as they can sugars. Therefore, it cuts down on their acid production.
• It increases the flow of saliva, which reduces plaque levels, as well as reducing the amount of bacteria.
• Xylitol seems to inhibit the growth of some of the bacteria that cause tooth decay – up to 90%.
• It neutralizes the pH of your saliva.
• Xylitol can help to protect and even promote enamel, meaning it may reverse existing tooth decay over time.
• Xylitol does not require insulin in order to be metabolized by the body, unlike sugars, so it’s safe for people living with diabetes.
Xylitol, as a naturally derived substance, is well tolerated by the body, with typically no side effects. There are a couple of caveats, as with all substances.
• It is digested slowly by the body, and may cause stomach upset or diarrhea if you have more than about 5 to 6 grams, 3 to 4 times per day.
• To help avoid this issue, you can introduce it gradually to your daily routine over a period of a week.
• It’s dangerous for dogs and cats, so please keep it away from your pets.
If you have any questions or concerns about xylitol, preventing tooth decay, or any other aspect of your oral and dental health, your dentist is the right person to ask. You’ll find the answers at Dr. Robert Axelrad’s Dental Office in Brampton, ON.
If you’re looking for a well-regarded and highly skilled dentist in the Brampton area, make an appointment with Dr. Robert Axelrad by calling (905)-791-3867. Visit our website to learn more about our dental services.