What is Xylitol, and How Can it Make My Mouth Healthier?

Xylitol is slowly making its way to the top of the list of sugar alternatives and sweeteners for people trying to cut back on sugar intake.  Lowering sugar consumption is good for your entire body, not just your teeth.  Of course, dentists have always urged people to limit the amount of sugar they eat or drink on a daily basis.  Now we have a great alternative to recommend!

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, derived from plants.  The most commonly used source of xylitol today is corncobs.  Xylitol contains one-third the calories of sugar, so while it is a better choice, it is not calorie free.  It is similar in sweetness to sugar.

Researchers have studied xylitol for over 40 years to determine its usefulness as a sweetener, its safety, and its effect on the body.  Our blog will focus on its effect on your oral health.

What is the Effect of Xylitol on My Risk for Cavities?

Research studies show that xylitol has an anticavity effect.  It stops harmful acid-producing bacteria in its tracks.  Bacteria cause cavities on teeth by producing a strong acid that can dissolve hard tooth enamel.  Xylitol slows down or completely stops the process of acid formation in these bacteria, thereby protecting your enamel.

The flavor of xylitol also stimulates saliva production.  Saliva is the body’s natural defense against cavities.  Without it, teeth are at risk for cavities and gum disease because bacteria can proliferate at a faster rate.

Not only does xylitol stop the bad guys (the bacteria causing cavities); it also strengthens the good guy (saliva).

What is the Effect of Xylitol on the Whole Mouth?

Xylitol helps maintain a healthy mouth by promoting all of the benefits provided by saliva.  Saliva lubricates the mouth, protecting against sores and ulcers as well as lip, cheek and tongue biting.  Saliva raises the pH in the mouth, protecting against harmful acid attacks from both bacteria and the food and drinks we consume.  Saliva contains enzymes that start the digestion process, so our chewing is more effective.  Saliva washes away food debris and plaque buildup, lowering the risk for cavities and gum disease.

Xylitol adds all of these benefits to the mouth by promoting saliva!

Are There any Side Effects of Xylitol?

Yes.

Some people experience GI upset after consuming large amounts of xylitol.  These side effects include diarrhea, abdominal cramping and gas.  They do subside as soon as you stop consuming xylitol.

Also, xylitol does contain a small amount of carbohydrates, so diabetics should continue to monitor their blood sugar levels closely.

How Should I Use Xylitol?

Xylitol is available over-the-counter in many forms:

  • Chewing gum
  • Mints or hard candy
  • Granulated, like sugar
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpastes
  • Discs that adhere to the inside of your mouth

Chewing Gum

The simplest way to add xylitol to your daily routine is by purchasing Ice Cubes chewing gum and chewing several pieces every day.  This gum is the easiest source of xylitol to add to your routine because it is available at every major grocery store or drugstore in many flavors.  It is a wonderful way to get your kids to fight cavities.  By chewing a piece of xylitol-containing gum after a meal, you help return your mouth to a neutral pH as quickly as possible.

You should NOT chew xylitol gum if you have problems with your jaw joints (TMJs).  If you start to have any pain or clicking sounds in your joints, stop chewing gum and call us immediately.

Mints or Candies

Xylitol mints or candies are a great option for patients with TMJ problems who cannot chew gum.  They are a little more difficult to find as they are usually only sold in health food stores.  You can always order them on amazon.  A few brands are Epic, Spry, and Zellie’s.

Xylitol mints are also a great option for just after meals or acidic drinks to help neutralize your mouth.

Granulated Xylitol

You can find granulated xylitol in most health food stores, and you use it just like sugar.  You can add it to your coffee or use it in baking at approximately the same amount as sugar.  You may need to experiment with it a little to get your recipes to taste just right.

Oral Hygiene Products

Oral care products like mouthwash and toothpastes also contain xylitol.  The xylitol sweetener helps improve the flavor and provides the anticavity benefits described above.  Some brands of oral care products containing xylitol include CariFree, Spry, OxyFresh, and NOW.

Intraoral Adhering Discs

Probably the newest option in xylitol delivery, intraoral discs like XyliMelts provide the best overnight dry mouth protection there is.  These lubricating “stickers” adhere to the inside of your mouth and release a xylitol-containing gel throughout the night.  The xylitol stimulates saliva, and the gel itself creates a lubricating effect.

These discs are a wonderful tool for fighting cavities in people who suffer from dry mouth.  If your mouth is consistently dry, and you have a high cavity risk, add XyliMelts to your bedtime routine.

WARNING!  Xylitol is toxic to dogs!

Make sure to keep any xylitol, even chewing gum containers, out of the reach of any dog.  You could be in for a very expensive vet bill, or even worse, the death of your pet.

Do You Have More Questions about Xylitol?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you may have about cavity risk and how xylitol can help you.

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