Xylitol – The Sweet Truth

Dr Janet Gritzman BA, BDS(Wits), P.D.D.(PTA)Dip Odont Endo(PTA), Dipl.Dent (Conscious Sedation & Pain Control)(UWC)

Most children have a sweet tooth. They prefer to eat sweets rather than any other healthy alternative.
While artificial sweeteners are sometimes recommended to help keep kids away from sugar, not every parent is happy with the idea of chemically-produced sweeteners.
Now there’s a natural sugar substitute that, not only does not cause cavities, it actually prevents them!

Xylitol is “tooth-friendly,” a naturally occurring, low-calorie sugar substitute with
anticariogenic properties.

Xylitol is  5-carbon sugar alcohol.
Xylitol is produced in small amounts in the human body- as part of our normal metabolism, the body produces up to 14 grams in the liver daily.
It is found in many fruits and vegetables such as plums, corn and strawberries.   The main source of commercially produced xylitol are corn cobs and birch bark.

It equals the sweetness of sugar and it has no after taste
It has 40% fewer calories than sugar. One teaspoon (5 gm) of xylitol contains 9.6 calories, as compared to one teaspoon of sugar, has a which has 15 calories.
It has a very low glycemic index of 13 (glucose has a GI of 100).
Its metabolism does not require insulin.
Xylitol-based products are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the medical claim that they do not promote dental cavities.
It is approved in over 35 countries

How it works
The Streptococcus mutans bacteria is the main cause of tooth decay .
1This bacteria uses sugar alcohols, sugars and other carbohydrates for food through fermentation.
In doing so, it produces acids that eat through the enamel on the teeth, which leads to decay. Streptococcus mutans cannot ferment xylitol- so in fact xylitol starves the bacteria.

2. Xylitol causes the environment to become more alkaline, inhibiting the bacterium’s growth.

3. Xylitol causes bacteria to lose the ability to adhere to the tooth, stunting the cavity causing process!

4. In addition xylitol accumulates intracellularly in Strep. Mutans, and this accumulation inhibits the bacteria’s growth.

The safety factor
Various committees and advisory boards have reviewed the safety data for xylitol. They have found no health concerns or placed any limits on consumption. The only side effect is when xylitol is taken at doses exceeding 20 to 40 grams or more. This may cause diarrhoea,in some cases.
Short-term consumption of xylitol is associated with decreased Streptococcus mutans levels in saliva and plaque.

Xylitol is safe for pregnant and nursing women.
Studies show that regular use of xylitol by nursing mothers significantly reduces the probability of transmitting the Streptococcus mutans bacteria, (which is responsible for tooth decay), from mother to child during the first two years of life, by as much as 80%. Researchers in Finland reported six-year results of a study that showed that mothers who chew gum sweetened with xylitol are less likely to transmit cavity-causing bacteria to their children.

Xylitol Products 
Food products containing xylitol, including chewing gums and mints, are available commercially
There is no scientific evidence available to establish the value of xylitol-containing nasal sprays or xylitol sweetened children’s vitamins in preventing dental caries.

How to use it
About 6 g of xylitol per day is needed to counteract the production of acid and thereby reduce the risk of cavities.
The daily intake should be distributed over at least three occasions.
Xylitol products that actively stimulate the secretion of saliva should be the first choice, such as chewing gum. The increase in saliva buffers the acids in the mouth (acid is one of the major factors which cause demineralization of the teeth leading to decay) and helps to wash away food particles when you can’t brush after a meal.

Chew 1.5-2 grams of xylitol gum for 5 minutes, 3-5 times a day.
It is best to chew xylitol gum after meals or snacks.
Xylitol sweetened mints can be used by people who can’t or prefer not to chew gum.

Remember: xylitol candy and gum should not replace the need for regular oral hygiene. Even with the proper amounts of xylitol, brushingflossing and regular dental visits are necessary to prevent tooth decay.

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