Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dental Health Benefits of Xylitol Sweetened Chewing Gum

Dr. Benjamin Coon, D.D.S.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring carbohydrate. It is found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, like raspberries and cauliflower. It also occurs naturally in our bodies; an average size adult manufactures up to 15 grams of xylitol daily during normal metabolism. Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks, pours and tastes like sugar.

It is an excellent alternative to sugar as a sweetener. Xylitol is slowly absorbed and partially utilized by our bodies, so the functional calories are 2.4 calories per gram;  about 40% less than other carbohydrates. In addition, the body does not require insulin to metabolize xylitol, which makes it an excellent sweetener for diabetic diets. But one of the best benefits of xylitol is that it is a cavity fighter, and it's widely available in several different sugar free chewing gum brands.

Over 25 years of clinical trials confirm that xylitol use reduces tooth decay rates both in high-risk groups (high caries, or tooth decay prevalence, poor nutrition, and poor oral hygiene) and in low-risk groups (low caries incidence using all current prevention recommendations). Sugar free chewing gums and candies made with xylitol as the principal sweetener have already received official endorsements from six national dental associations. 

Tooth decay happens when bacteria in your mouth consume the sugars we eat. When you eat food containing ordinary sugar (sucrose), it gives bacteria on your teeth energy, allowing them to multiply and start making acids that can eat away the enamel on the teeth. This "acid attack" causes tooth decay and cavities to begin to form.

Xylitol is a natural sweetener derived from plants. It does not break down like sugar and can help keep a neutral pH level in the mouth. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth. This is how it protects the teeth from tooth decay. With xylitol, the acid attack that would otherwise last for over half an hour is stopped. Most people are not aware of this benefit because such a claim makes xylitol into a drug, crossing a boundary not allowed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Because the bacteria in the mouth that are causing cavities are unable to digest xylitol, their growth is greatly reduced. The number of acid-producing bacteria may fall as much as 90%. No acid is formed because the pH of saliva and plaque does not fall. After taking xylitol, the bacteria do not stick well on the surface of the teeth and as a result, the amount of plaque decreases.

Research has also shown that the use of xylitol helps repair damage to the enamel. Saliva in itself protects the mouth and teeth. Stimulated saliva in particular contains all the components needed to repair early cavities. If sugar is only eaten a couple of times a day, the saliva can do the job alone. But most people take sugar so often that the mouth's own defensive tools are not enough.

Saliva that has xylitol is more alkaline than saliva stimulated by other sugar products. After taking xylitol products, the concentration of basic amino acids and ammonia in saliva and plaque may rise, and plaque pH rises as well. When pH is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to move into those parts of enamel that are weak. Therefore, soft, calcium-deficient enamel sites begin to harden again.

Have a look at the sugar free gum products on the market. With the exception of Trident Layers, all of Trident's gums contain xylitol, including Trident Extra Care, regular Trident and Trident Splash. There are several other varieties available. For children ages four and up, and all adults, chewing gum with xylitol is a great thing to do to maintain dental health.

Dr. Benjamin Coon, D.D.S.
Glenwood Meadows Dental
40 Market Street, Suite A
Glenwood Springs, CO  81601