You may have seen xylitol listed as an ingredient in many things over the past few years. It’s not uncommon to find in gums, mints, sweets, etc. and it is becoming more and more common with the wealth of information and research now out on it. It is a low-glycemic index, natural sweetener from birch trees. Unlike other sweeteners, it is naturally derived and most importantly for us from a dental standpoint, it doesn’t cause cavities! What?! A sweetener that is actually “good” for your teeth?! This has to be too good to be true, right? Wrong!
The way that xylitol is made up (it is a 5-carbon sugar), the bacteria in our mouth and on our teeth can’t digest it. Typically, the bacteria in our mouth eat the sugary/carbohydrates in our diet and then digest it, turning the sugar to acid which in turn causes decay on the teeth. With xylitol, it’s different and the bacteria in our mouth essentially die since they don’t have a food source. Not only does it help in this way, it also can help re-mineralize areas that have had previous decalcification. When we chew gum or eat candies containing xylitol, it helps increase our saliva production and in turn washes a lot of the bad bacteria away. By doing this, it leaves more room for minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, to help repair damaged or weakened areas.
We know that sweets and treats are part of our life and we would never tell you to cut them out 100% (refer to our healthy snacking blog post). With the more frequent use of xylitol as a sweetener and treats made with it becoming more readily available and more easily accessible, we now have a great option and alternative for treats for ourselves and for our children. It is also great for those that suffer from xerostomia (dry mouth) since it helps promote saliva formation while not causing cavities, unlike other candies, cough drops, etc. that people often use to help alleviate symptoms of their dry mouth.
Another finding of xylitol is that it’s believed to decrease the transmission of cavity causing bacteria from mother to baby when the mother is using xylitol at the recommended daily dosage. This is huge considering that parents inevitably transfer their cavity causing bacteria to their children so having a way to decrease this transmission is huge. Regular use of xylitol significantly reduces this transmission between parent and child, ultimately resulting in fewer cavities for the child.
The recommended dose of xylitol is 5 exposures a day, which should be enough to help with cavity prevention. 1 piece of xylitol gum is 1 exposure and 2 xylitol mints are 1 exposure. There are also lozenges and a product called Xyli Melts that stick to your gums/cheek to provide longer relief from dry mouth for extended periods of time. It is good to note that too much xylitol can cause stomach upset in some individuals but you have to have quite a bit for this to happen and the small amount that’s in a lollipop or similar small treat isn’t usually enough to cause any problems. It’s also important to note that if you have a dog, please keep your xylitol out of reach for your 4-legged friend as it can be very toxic and even fatal to them. If you have any questions about xylitol or it’s benefits in the dental world, please don’t hesitate to ask us at your next appointment!