Sugar is quite possibly the most destructive substance that we consume in our diets today. In an effort to clean up our American diets and satisfy our sweet tooth monster at the same time, many of us are looking to artificial sweeteners like xylitol to satisfy the urge for something sweet without sacrificing our dental health.
Xylitol looks, tastes, and acts like sugar, but it does not contribute to tooth decay or raise blood sugar. Xylitol has also been found to be instrumental in preventing cavities. It seems that a little examination is needed to see what other benefits xylitol can provide us while satisfying our urge for something sweet.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a natural alcohol sugar that helps to prevent cavities. While other alcohol-derived sugars such as sorbitol and mannitol have been used to sweeten gum, mints, and other sweets, xylitol by far holds the most promise for preventing the formation of cavities. It is equal in both sweetness and volume to regular sugar, and can be used to sweeten beverages, cereal, and is also useful in baking. It is fast becoming the go-to sweetener for people who are glucose sensitive, those who wish to eliminate sugar from their diet, and those who are looking to fortify their efforts to improve their dental health.
How does xylitol work to prevent cavities?
Xylitol works to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria simply cannot use the xylitol to grow. Over time, and with consistent use of products containing xylitol, the environment in the mouth changes, and bacteria can no longer survive on tooth surfaces. Sugar-based acids that attack tooth enamel are no longer present, and plaque cannot form as easily.
Interestingly, tooth decay potential is passed from parent to child, as any bacteria present in mom’s body at the time of birth is passed on. Studies have shown that mothers who frequently use products sweetened with xylitol are much less likely to pass these harmful bacteria to their children, thus improving their dental health as well.
What are some products that contain xylitol?
The most common places to find xylitol are in chewing gum and mints. In order for xylitol to have cavity reducing properties, it should be listed in the first five ingredients on the package. Health food stores can be excellent places to find products containing xylitol, as well as companies that are now promoting its therapeutic use by selling only products containing xylitol on the internet.
How much xylitol is recommended for cavity prevention?
A dose of 5 grams daily is considered therapeutic; when using mints, consuming 3-5 minutes throughout the day will be effective, provided they are allowed to dissolve in the mouth completely. Gum must be chewed for at least 5 minutes in order to allow for xylitol absorption into the bloodstream. As it makes its way into the large intestine, it acts much like fiber, aiding in the cleaning and purification of the digestive system as well. Doses larger than 5 grams daily can produce a laxative effect on the body; consult your dentist or physician if you experience any unpleasant symptoms with use.
Has xylitol been evaluated for safety?
Xylitol has been safety-approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the WHO Advisory Committee on Food Additives, and the European Union’s Scientific Committee for Food. With this impressive list of credentials, it has been recommended by dentists across the country as a supplemental additive for use in cavity prevention. Of course, xylitol consumption is no substitute for a clean diet and adequate dental care; the three of these things in combination with one another is the best defense against dental disease and decay.
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