Dental researchers are constantly working to find treatments and care to meet the diverse needs of a world population almost chronically in need of dental attention. Worldwide, dental diseases, like tooth loss and periodontitis, are some of the most common– and avoidable– health problems.
Not only can dental disease impact your smile, but there is also a growing body of research pointing to a correlation between the decay in your mouth and other types of health hazards— like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and dementia. Because of this, scientists believe that addressing dental health could have a ripple effect that improves general health as well, and they’re suggesting some easy, accessible tools for people to use.
That’s where xylitol comes in.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol— it shows up in the wood of many plants like birch, coconut, and even straw. Xylitol shows up in our bodies as well; it’s an intermediate product in glucose metabolism. For the purposes of manufacturing, xylitol is commonly sourced from wood.
This 5-carbon sugar has been approved for food use by the FDA and the World Health Organization and other consumer safety agencies. In the food industry, xylitol is used as a sugar-free sweetener; it can be found in low calorie foods aimed at weight loss, or in diabetic-specific treats. And it has also been shown to hold promising dental health benefits.
Xylitol is primarily a preventative tool in the fight against cavities, and it works through a couple of mechanisms.
Perhaps the most important job xylitol does is what it doesn’t do– it doesn’t feed bacteria. As we know, bacteria feed on the sugars in our mouths– sugars from bready foods like cereal or pretzels, sweetened drinks, fruit, and of course candy. Bacteria’s metabolization of these sugars results in an acidic byproduct that they release directly onto the tooth enamel that they’re sitting on– damaging the enamel until, finally, a cavity forms.
Xylitol tastes sweet to us, but not to bacteria. They can’t metabolize it. So while we chew gum or a xylitol sweetened lozenge, bacteria go hungry– and they can’t hurt enamel without food.
Another great way that xylitol helps prevent cavities is through its application. Commonly, xylitol is found in gum, which many of us chew after a meal so that the person sitting next to us at work doesn’t have to smell tuna fish all afternoon.
Chewing gum cleans the mouth by removing the bits and remnants of food still caught in our teeth. It also stimulates salivation, which is enormously important because not only does it “wash” our mouths free of debris but also carries ions that remineralize damaged enamel.
Xylitol has been shown to be especially effective in children at high risk for cavities or gum disease. The fact that it’s both easy and enjoyable to ingest makes this an excellent candidate for improving pediatric oral health!
Xylitol is considered safe by food and drug authorities as well as medical professionals and researchers. And of course, it has anti-cavity benefits that dentists love.
The one thing to watch out for with xylitol may be a bit of diarrhea; but this is only known to occur with the ingestion of large amounts.
Talk to your Littleton family dentist today!
Are you interested in knowing more about how xylitol can improve your dental health? The helpful staff and friendly professionals at McGinty Dental Group would love to answer all your questions!
Schedule your next appointment today– we look forward to seeing you!