Xylitol: A sugar that’s good for your teeth!
No, that title’s not a typo. Researchers have found a sweetener (Xylitol) that is actually good for your teeth. This is by far the best news to come out of the profession of dentistry since I was in ninth grade and my orthodontist told me I didn’t have to wear my headgear anymore.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener that comes from plants and trees. It can be refined just like regular sugar and added to foods or sold in bulk form that you can add to foods (although I did find a reference on the Internet that said when used for baking the Xylitol will break down and the final product will not be as sweet as it should be).
I recently experimented with a bag of Xylitol and added it to my morning coffee. Honestly the result was not all that I hoped for and I’ll probably go back to my regular sweetener. The Xylitol had a bit of a cool mint aftertaste that truly did not complement my morning cup of joe.
Here’s one warning for Xylitol use that many diabetics have discovered: Too much Xylitol taken over a short period of time can cause (how to say this politely) an affinity for sitting on the porcelain throne that most people find to be counterproductive to getting through their normal day.
So there are some marks against Xylitol. As a coffee or baking sweetener there’s evidence it’s sub par. At high doses it’s a laxative. But let’s focus on the positives for a moment, shall we?
Xylitol works very well as a sweetener in gums and mints (the cool aftertaste that I found out of place in my coffee is right at home in these little treats). Research has shown that the bacteria in our mouths that cause tooth decay cannot digest Xylitol, and so the sweetener will actually reduce the number of bacteria, and thereby, our risk to tooth decay.
So in gums and mints we’ve found a good vehicle to deliver the bacteria-killing Xylitol to our teeth. Now we just need to use it enough to do its job but not so much that we have any undesired effects.
Clinical trials have shown that chewing two sticks of gum sweetened with Xylitol (or sucking on two mints) after each meal gives the desired benefit of reducing tooth decay. While keeping the overall dosage small, I like to think of the gum as a way to get my teeth a little cleaner when I don’t have a toothbrush handy.
If you’ve ever had problems with the joint of your jaw, avoid the gum and go for the mints as you don’t want to exacerbate any TMD problems.
Look for gum or mints that are sweetened with 100 percent Xylitol as these will have the greatest effect. Don’t be fooled by gums that say they are good for your teeth, but when you read the ingredients they are sweetened with Sorbitol. Sorbitol sweetened gums have had a significantly lower effect on reducing bacteria and decay in studies. Yet they did have some measurable benefit so manufacturers can list these benefits on the packaging. Manufacturers tend to push the Sorbitol products as the Sorbitol is much cheaper to produce, so more room for profit.
If you cannot find Xylitol gum or mints locally (I found my bulk bag at Orchard Nutrition Center) you can always find them on the Internet. I’ve ordered from several different sources for samples to give out at my office. Like any gum, you just have to find a flavor that you like.
So use your regular sugar and keep your normal diet. Brush your teeth and floss just like you always did. Then add in some Xylitol sweetened mints or gum after meals as an additional measure to reduce your chances of tooth decay.
Finally, we dentists get to recommend something fun to do!
Todd Gandy is a Redding dentist whose journey to dentistry was circuitous. He attended UC Davis and worked as a mechanical engineer in his then-chosen field before he realized dentistry was his true calling. He returned to school, this time in San Francisco, to become a dentist. He graduated from UOP School of Dentistry and returned to Redding with his wife and two daughters to start a practice. Todd T. Gandy DDS Comprehensive Dental Care is at 2950 Eureka Way, Suite B, Redding, CA 96001. His number is 243-1855.