Xylitol for Dental HealthJanuary 13, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
What’s one of the best things you can do to promote healthier teeth and gums? The answer may surprise you. Some dentists are suggesting that you include more sweets in your daily routine. You read right: More sweets.
Have you ever heard of a microorganism called S. mutans? S. mutans is a bad guy when it comes to tooth decay. It promotes an acidic environment in our mouths which leaves enamel susceptible to damage, erosion and eventually cavities.
Luckily, nature has provided a cheap, natural and safe remedy for this problem: xylitol. Xylitol is a sweet substance commonly found in birch trees and in the fibrous portions of many fruits and vegetables. I actually mentioned it the other day when I was covering sugar substitutes. But today, I want to discuss its application as a cavity fighting agent.
Chew It or Lose It
A recent study out of Korea examined the effect on cavities caused by the regular chewing of xylitol sweetened gum.
Two groups of women were assigned to chew either regular or xylitol gum for a period of one year. At ten points during that year, saliva samples were taken from these women and analyzed to determine the amounts of S. mutans.
In the xylitol gum group, the levels of S. mutans decreased consistently as the study progressed. The researchers also found that the S. mutans produced a lower amount of sticky substances in the xylitol chewers. This is relevant because the stickiness allows for acids to cause more damage to our teeth. The combined effects of chewing the xylitol gum led to an oral environment that was less prone to cavity formation.
The results of this first study were encouraging. But I wanted to see if this might be a fluke. It seems that it is not.
Chewing the Facts
In December of 2008, a review appeared in the Journal of the American Dental Association. In it, the researchers examined the findings of 19 studies relating to the use of xylitol and sorbitol gums in the prevention of tooth decay. Their analysis found that the xylitol gum studies showed the greatest cavity prevention.
Here’s a breakdown of a few different sugar alcohols and their overall preventive effect:
- Xylitol Gum – 58.66%
- Xylitol & Sorbitol Combination Gum – 52.82%
- Sorbitol Gum– 20.01%
- Sorbitol & Mannitol Combination Gum – 10.71%
As you can see, the xylitol component appears to be the most important factor in the promotion of oral health.
So how exactly does xylitol help protect teeth? It is believed that it works to starve harmful bacteria, like S. mutans. This leads to a less acidic environment that is less prone to decay and plaque formation.
Adding Calcium = Adding Enamel
Preventing cavities is a very positive thing. But is there a way to strengthen enamel, if it’s weak to begin with? Maybe so.
A few years ago, scientists in Japan published a study that tested a combination gum that included calcium lactate and xylitol. Their aim was to see if such a gum could actually make tooth enamel stronger.
Volunteers were asked to either a) chew no gum, b) chew xylitol gum or c) chew gum with xylitol and calcium lactate. The voluteers chewed 4 pieces of each gum for 2 weeks. After which, their enamel was measured using an X-ray.
The results showed that the xylitol-calcium gum was about 50% more effective in promoting remineralization than the xylitol-only gum. The authors concluded that, “chewing gum containing xylitol + calcium lactate could enhance remineralization of enamel surface”.
A Homemade Solution
Xylitol gum and mints are commercially available in the United States and abroad. But I’d like to share an inexpensive homemade mouthwash that may also be a good addition to your oral care routine.
The recipe is simple. Add 1 teaspoon of pure xylitol, ¼ of sea salt and ¼ teaspoon of calcium lactate. Put these three ingredients in a glass and cover with hot water. Stir to dissolve the powders. Then, wait until it’s a comfortable temperature. Now rinse & gargle with the mixture. Take your time. The longer the exposure to your teeth and gums, the better. If possible, try to do this at least a few times a day. Doing so may lead to better breath and stronger teeth and gums.
If you try xylitol gums, mints or my mouthwash, please let me know how they work out for you. Better yet, let me know what your dentist has to say about it at your next cleaning.
Posted in Dental Health