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Xylitol for Dental Health

January 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.

Be well!

JP

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26 Comments to “Xylitol for Dental Health”

  1. G Paul Fanton Says:

    Hi JP,

    This article is a jewel. Even a retired engineer or dentist would be pleased in learning from it how to improve the care of their teeth effectively !

    Keep up your great work!

    Thank you!

    Paul

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you for your kind feedback, Paul.

    I’ll try to include more information about good oral care in the coming days.

    My best to you!

    JP

  3. Jeremy Says:

    I just recently read an article where a man had some soft spots on his teeth after going to the dentist. For 2 weeks he used a Xylitol mouthwash like what you describe and after going back to the dentist the soft spots on his teeth were gone!
    http://www.marilynfarms.com/blog/xylitol-for-dental-cavities.html

  4. JP Says:

    That’s wonderful news, Jeremy. I hope to hear of other success stories like that!

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Kevin Says:

    I always buy Xylitol gum, but I didn’t know why they use Xylitol for gum until I read this post. Thanks, JP!

  6. JP Says:

    My pleasure, Kevin.

    I chew xylitol gum on a daily basis. I also use xylitol sweetened mints. They taste great and should be good for our teeth and gums!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Kelly Says:

    Hi. I just saw your recipe for mouthwash, however it’s hard to find calcium lactate powder, and the ones I did find are quite expensive.
    My question is…If I just gargle with xylitol & warm water will I still get beneficial results? I understand that xylitol is wonderful for teeth.
    Thanks.

  8. JP Says:

    Good day, Kelly.

    Just using xylitol alone would likely be of benefit as well, IMO. My father gargles and rinses with a combination of sea salt, warm water and xylitol.

    Now Foods used to carry an inexpensive calcium lactate powder. Unfortunately, it appears that they’ve discontinued the product.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Fred Stange DDS Says:

    I enjoyed your article. I found it while searching out information for my own blog. I would like to place a reference to your article in my writing. I would comment one thing that I found in dental school: Don’t chew any gum for too long a period of time. The benefits of sugarless gum are clear. The benefit of getting your saliva flowing and repairing the teeth is also clear.
    However one experiment I completed was that when we chew anything for an extended time we will use up our saliva stores. Then the mouth will become dry and lessen the benefit we just started by chewing something in the first place. I found that chewing for 10-15 minutes gets ours mouths the benefits and leaves us with enough saliva to spare. Good work.
    Fred

  10. JP Says:

    Welcome, Fred. :)

    By all means, feel free to reference this column.

    Thank you for sharing the tip about chewing time. It’s an important point and I’m glad you made it.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Cindy Hart Says:

    Xylitol is great for people, but you should mention that is not for dogs, infact it is lethally toxic. So happily chew your gum, but dispose of it properly and don’t let you dog anywhere near it.

  12. JP Says:

    Cindy,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s true that xylitol is toxic for dogs. I mentioned that in another column but not in this particular one. I appreciate you bringing it up.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/465/erythritol-and-xylitol-news/

    While we’re on the subject, there are quite a few foods and ingredients that can be harmful for our canine friends including: avocados, chocolate, grapes and raisins, onions and a variety of nuts.

    http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/foods_poisonous_to_pets.html

    Be well!

    JP

  13. Rachel Bradley Says:

    Do you suppose that calcium carbonate (baking soda) would work just as well as calcium lactate in this rinse? I know baking soda is fabulous for oral health (and much easier to come by).

  14. JP Says:

    Rachel,

    I can’t say for certain because calcium lactate is believed to be more soluble than calcium carbonate. Solubility can impact absorption.

    A recent study didn’t find very impressive results when evaluating a gum containing calcium carbonate.

    http://www.jodjournal.com/article/S0300-5712%2809%2900136-5/abstract

    But a toothpaste containing “nano” sized calcium carbonate seemed to be quite effective. Regular calcium carbonate may work in toothpaste as well.

    http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/josnusd/51/1/51_69/_article

    http://content.karger.com/produktedb/produkte.asp?typ=fulltext&file=CRE2005039003255

    Be well!

    JP

  15. Addi Says:

    In response to Rachel, who asked if baking soda can be used in place of calcium lactate, I’ve read that it can cause gum recession, exposing the roots of one’s teeth, due to its abrasiveness.

  16. TonyD Says:

    I’ve been doing a variation on this: I make ginger tea with xylitol, which I then sip through the morning hours. Kind of a combination tea/mouthwash. Tasty and healthy.

    I read that silica is used in tooth/bone formation, and that ginger has a high natural concentration of silica.

    If I had some calcium lactate I would try throwing some in. If I find some locally I’ll give that a try.

    PS. I had a black toenail and athlete’s foot — both have disappeared since I started brushing with xylitol and drinking this tea — it has been about two months since I started.

  17. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your successful experience with us, Tony. Much appreciated! Very interesting indeed.

    Be well!

    JP

  18. Marc Says:

    I’ve been using a solution of xylitol, sea salt and baking soda for some time now (one tablespoon per pint ratio)
    In response to Addi, I brush my gumline once a day using a soft baby toothbrush and a mixture of baking soda, colloidal silver and sea salt (3/1 ratio)
    I’m not a dentist but I don’t believe that baking soda will cause any problems with your teeth, unless of course you over-zealously brush them and damage the enamel.

  19. Lily Cardwell Says:

    Does it matter what type of water you use. I have been using EVIAN bottled water due to it has a higher PH?

    Also, how much water is needed for the recipe above? I have been using one cup of water.

    Thanks for the information,

    Lily

  20. Ellie Says:

    I am wondering if anyone has found an inexpensive calcium lactate?

  21. Claire Says:

    For those looking for calcium lactate powder Swanson Vitamins (www.swansonvitamins.com) sells 9 oz. of calcium lactate powder for $6.99. They also have 16 oz. of xylitol for $7.99 (prices as of July 13, 2012). Shipping is $4.99 to CONUS but they sometimes offer free shipping for purchases over a certain amount.

    Has anyone tried opening up calcium lactate capsules and using the powder from the capsules?

  22. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing that, Claire. For those interested, here’s a direct link to product in question:

    http://www.swansonvitamins.com/SW1310/ItemDetail

    The problem with most calcium lactate capsules is that they often include additives in the form fillers and/or flowing agents which most people probably don’t want in a mouthwash. That’s why a pure, powder form of calcium lactate is ideal.

    Be well!

    JP

  23. dd Says:

    Hi JP,

    Enjoyed the article and also that you respond to comments!
    I’ve been using xylitol gum on/off for a year, for plaque reduction, seems to work.

    I’d like to add calcium lactate to the mix. I found a Canadian source online with these ingredients:

    Calcium 250 mg
    (From: 550 mg calcium carbonate, 165 mg calcium lactate, 35 mg calcium citrate)

    Magnesium 170 mg
    (From: 225 mg magnesium oxide, 225 mg magnesium citrate)

    Zinc (zinc citrate) 17 mg

    Silica (silicon dioxyde) 9 mg

    Vitamin D3 4 µg

    Vitamin E (d-alphatocopherol) 5 mg AT

    Copper (cupric gluconate) 840 µg

    Boron (boron citrate) 300 µg

    Do you think that would work as an addition to xylitol/sea salt mouthwash rinse?

    Thank you

    Dd

  24. JP Says:

    Hi DD,

    If you plan to make the mouthwash I mentioned in the column, I would opt for a pure source of calcium lactate such as the one linked to below:

    http://www.swansonvitamins.com/swanson-premium-pure-dairy-free-calcium-lactate-550-mg-9-oz-255-grams-pwdr

    Using a pure powder will assist the ingredients to dissolve more easily due to the absence of additives frequently included in encapsulated products.

    Be well!

    JP

  25. Kem Says:

    JP,

    I commented on one of your post, but I cannot seem to find to see if you responded. First I must say, great article. I am planning to add calcium lactate to my daily regime.

    Do you have any information or knowledge on the oral benefits of wheatgrass. I read online that wheat grass juice has good benefits for teeth and gums. I added the site I saw the information on in my previou post but dont remember the site. Any info would be great.

    Kem

  26. JP Says:

    Thank you, Kem.

    I’m unaware of any scientific evidence in relation to wheat grass and oral health. Having said that, there is some data supporting a role for chlorophyll (contained in wheat grass and other green foods) in managing body odor and possibly bad breath as well. The studies in question are older (mostly from the 1950′s and 1980) and aren’t easily accessible online.

    General Info on Wheat Grass: http://www.healthyfellow.com/950/wheatgrass-juice-research/

    Be well!

    JP

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