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Xylitol: A Natural Cavity Preventer

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 5/31/2010

Although flouride has been shown to reduce tooth decay, the debate still rages over it's safety. Try fighting cavities with xylitol, a sweet tasting natural substance that inhibits cavity forming bacteria.

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    What is Xylitol? Is it Safe?

    Xylitol is a natural substance that can be derived from plant sources such as corn, birch, raspberries, and plums. First produced in Finland in the 20th century, xylitol became a popular sweetener in Finland and in other European nations. Xylitol is a natural sweetener that does not affect insulin levels and has been used regularly by people with diabetes.

    Xylitol is recognized by the FDA as a safe food additive, echoing the scientific conclusions of the World Health Organization and many other organizations worldwide. Xylitol is not an artificial sweetener or synthetic substance, but a naturally occurring sweetener that our bodies encounter when digesting certain foods.

    When xylitol is used in a typical application such as chewing gum or toothpaste, side effects are nonexistant. However, certain minor side effects have been shown when consuming moderate to high amounts of xylitol. At about 15 grams per day some people report stomach discomfort. Consuming over 40 grams of xylitol a day can lead to diarrhea.

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    How Does Xylitol Fight Cavities?

    In the early 1970's Finnish researchers discovered xylitol's potential for preventing tooth decay. Scientists now know that cavity forming bacteria cannot process xylitol the way they digest other sugars. Instead of feeding the bacteria and leading to tooth decay, xylitol works in the mouth to inhibit bacteria growth.

    Xylitol tastes like any other sweetener, but it's chemical structure is different from sugars such as sucrose and fructose. Technically a sugar alcohol, the xylitol molecule has five (instead of six) carbon atoms. Cavity forming bacteria are unable to metabolize xylitol molecules and are therefore not able to multiply to the level that can cause cavities.

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    How to Use Xylitol for Cavity Prevention

    For optimal cavity prevention, it is recommended to consume 5 or 6 grams of xylitol a day. Chewing 3-5 pieces of xylitol gum, for instance, will help you meet the daily recommendations. Other xylitol containing dental care products include toothpaste, mints, and mouth wash. You can even find xylitol-sweetened chocolates for the ultimate healthy after meal treat.

    For babies and children, xylitol products have great potential at preventing tooth decay. Children love the sweet taste of xylitol toothpastes, gels, gum, and candy. A pacifier dispenser is available to administer xylitol to infants.

    Many xylitol products are offered by Xlear, a leading manufacturer of xylitol sweetened products. Their Spry Dental Defense System® brand includes toothpastes, mints, gum, and children's products. They also sell XyloSweet®, raw xylitol crystals that can be used as a sugar substitute in cooking and baking, and 100% xylitol-sweetened SparX® Candy.

    Trident gum now contains xylitol, though it still contains artificial sweeteners. You can also find xylitol products, including xylitol chocolate, sweeteners, and cavity free kits, from Epic.

    Resources:

    http://www.xylitol.org

    The California Dental Association http://www.cda.org/popup/Xylitol