Why Xylitol For Tooth Decay?

Oh no, not another artificial sweetener!  Don't we have enough already?  Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, what's next?

While most other artificial sweeteners have zero calories, xylitol has 2.4 calories per gram.  That's 40% less calories than other carbohydrates.  Discovered in 1891, the benefits of xylitol remained quiet for decades.  In 1960, it was approved for use with diabetics, and in 1970 for cavity prevention.

This isn't like all the other sugar substitutes. Xylitol is found in tree bark, plants, fruits and vegetables.  Our own body makes 5-10 grams of xylitol every day.  Today, manufacturers produce xylitol from corn cobs and corn stalks (the products themselves don't contain corn). The down side of ingesting too much at once, is gastric upset.  Since it is digested as a fiber, it pulls water from the tissues and can cause diarrhea.  But, if ingested over a period of time, xylitol will not cause this side effect.

With a glycemic level of 7, xylitol does not raise insulin levels, making it safe for diabetics. So how does this sugar work?  Well its a 5-carbon sugar instead of a 6 (like sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol.)  Because it's a 5-carbon sugar, it passes through the bacterial membrane and can not be metabolized.  While the bacteria uses up its energy trying to pump out the molecule, it uses up all its energy. The bacteria is unable to stick to one another, because it's used up the acid and is unable to make more. The bacterial communication becomes disrupted and the biofilm structure breaks apart.  The bacteria then slide down the digestive and nasal tracks and exits the body!  Cool, right?

The reason I'm so excited about xylitol is the effects with the teeth. It actually helps to fight tooth decay.  A 1989 study by the University of Michigan took 1,277 students and divided them into four groups.  Over a 40-month period, students were given 100% xylitol gum several times a day.  Over the period of 40 months, students were monitored for tooth decay.  The study revealed a dramatic decrease in decay.  Five years later, a follow-up study by the University of Washington showed a 70% reduction in tooth decay, even though the students were no longer using the xylitol. Thus, the conclusion is xylitol changes the oral micro-flora.

For those who do not  have a problem with tooth decay, the oral micro-flora is healthy. But, for those who have the bacteria that is causing cavities, xylitol may be able to eliminate those bad guys! Because bacteria works hard to grow every minute of the day, frequency is the key. Using gum and/or mints, getting five exposures throughout the day works best.  While good is three exposures a day, it's  best to strive for five. The gum is not a recreation gum, meaning, chewing only for five minutes will give the exposure needed. Once the flavor is gone, all the xylitol has been released.

So to break it down:

  • after breakfast--chew gum or mint
  • mid-morning--have a mint or gum
  • after lunch--chew gum or mint
  • mid-afternoon--have a mint or gum
  • after supper--have a mint or gum

Some gum manufacturers market gum as having xylitol, but it's so far down on the list of ingredients, it has little benefit.  Look for gum or mints that contain 100% xylitol.  I find mine at our local health food store. Spry is the leading manufacturer of xylitol.  I have included the link to their website.  European countries have been recommending xylitol for years to prevent tooth decay, but we are still recommending fluoride.  Fluoride is found in water, toothpastes, and mouth rinses, yet I continue to see tooth decay.  Isn't it time to try something new? It reminds me of what I heard about the definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome."

health-bite:  xylitol for tooth decay