We all know that added sugars are an unhealthy ingredient in most American’s present diet, which is why sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol are becoming trendier. Xylitol is classified as a sugar alcohol, it has both sugar molecules and alcohol molecules which is what stimulates the taste receptors for sweetness on your tongue. This is why it tastes just as good as traditional sugar, but has 40% less calories! This natural sweetener can be found in the fibrous parts of plants, fruits and veggies; it is also used as a sweetener in chewing gum, mints, beverages, sweets, toothpaste and even tabletop granular sugar.
Although Xylitol is used and tastes like sugar, it does not breakdown the same way in your mouth, which is why it’s becoming more commonly recommended in the dental community. Traditional sugar breaks down and causes acid making your mouth more acidic, increasing risk of decay, where Xylitol neutralizes the pH level in your mouth, and decreases bacteria from sticking to teeth, protecting your teeth from tooth decay. As I’ve mentioned in many of my blogs, tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases among children and adults, so it’s important to take any steps we can help prevent it.
One of the leading oral bacteria found in our mouths is Streptococcus Mutan which is responsible for the plaque that causes cavities and inflammation (gingivitis). Oral bacteria feed on sugar, which gives the bacteria energy causing them to multiply and begin making acids that eat away at the enamel on your teeth, leading to cavities. These same bacteria cannot use xylitol for energy; they can ingest it, which clogs the energy pathways preventing them from being able to take up glucose causing them to eventually die. As these bacteria die the numbers of acid producing bacteria fall, allowing the pH levels to stay neutral, decreasing plaque buildup and tooth decay.
Daily use of xylitol has been proven to have long- lasting benefits, so as a dental professional I’ve started recommending it more to my patients as a great way to help prevent tooth decay and decrease gingivitis. It can also help increase salivary flow and remineralize tooth enamel. The most common way to expose your teeth and body to Xylitol is through chewing sugar-free gum that contains xylitol, it’s recommended to chew it after each meal for 20 minutes. If you have jaw problems this is not recommended, you may want to try sugar- free candies instead. Additional ways to expose yourself to Xylitol is by sweetening your coffee or tea with Xylitol granules, as well as using toothpaste and mouthrinse that contain Xylitol twice a day. The most important thing to remember is that it’s all about the number of exposures throughout the day, not just the quantity.
It’s important to remember that Xylitol is still a sweetener and does not contain any vitamins, minerals or proteins and has calories, but it’s a beneficial way to help reduce your sugar intake while protecting your teeth!