When bacteria in the mouth consume the sugars that we eat, tooth decay occurs. Eating food with ordinary sugar or sucrose fuels the bacteria on the teeth, allowing them to multiply and start forming acids that can break down tooth enamel. The acid attack brings about tooth decay and leads to cavity formation.
What is Xylitol: As per Wikipedia
Xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener.Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose (table sugar), with 33% fewer calories. Unlike other natural or synthetic sweeteners, xylitol is actively beneficial for dental health by reducing caries (cavities) to a third in regular use and helpful to remineralization.
Xylitol is obtained from the fibrous material of a number of common fruits and vegetables, as well as mushroom, berries, oats, corn husks, sugar cane, and birch. Xylitol can be created or extracted in a number of ways, including tapping a birch tree for birch sap, as well as allowing the isolated chemical to ferment the xylose and extract a high yield of xylitol. The hydrogenation of xylose also results in the conversion of the sugar aldehyde into a primary alcohol. Xylitol was actually discovered back in the 19th century by chemists in Germany and France, but didn’t come in a pure form until the 1930s. It was actually used during WWII as a substitute for sugar for many troops. Nowadays, xylitol can be found as a replacement sweetener in chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, and even some pharmaceutical medicines.
Xylitol doesn’t break down in the same manner as sugar and can assist in maintaining a neutral pH level in the mouth. Xylitol also keeps bacteria from sticking to the teeth, which stops the typical acid attack, minimizing tooth decay.
The first dental research investigating the use of xylitol to prevent cavities was completed in Finland. It was published in 1975. Over the past 40 years, there have been numerous additional studies involving xylitol performed all over the world.
One of the most notable recent contributions to xylitol research is Burt’s data accumulation as a portion of his part of the paper “The use of sorbitol- and xylitol-sweetened chewing gum in caries control,” which was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association. This publication tabulates varying dental health benefits that are attributed to xylitol use.
How Xylitol Prevents Cavities
Cariogenic bacteria brings about cavities. There are certain types of cariogenic bacteria that can’t digest xylitol. The inability of these kinds of bacteria to use xylitol as a food source offers several key benefits.
• Tooth demineralization prevention. When a tooth’s surface is exposed to acid byproducts that are formed by cariogenic bacteria feeding on sugars, demineralization occurs. As some bacteria strains can’t metabolize xylitol, when it’s provided for them as a food source, there will be less acid formation. With less acid formation, the conditions are less favorable for tooth demineralization. Xylitol also promotes remineralization to reverse any damage that does occur via demineralization through the xylitol molecule itself and by creating less acidic plaque. Re-mineralization solutions containing xylitol demonstrate a higher degree of repair than equivalent solutions without xylitol.
• Sub par living environment promotion. An acidic environment is optimal for cariogenic bacteria growth. Giving xylitol to cariogenic bacteria as a food source results in fewer acidic waste byproducts because they have difficulty metabolizing xylitol. Having fewer byproducts creates a dental plaque environment that isn’t conducive to cariogenic bacteria growth.
• Starvation effect. As cariogenic bacteria attempt to use xylitol as a food source and are unsuccessful, fewer bacteria thrive in the mouth. Reduced bacteria numbers leads to fewer byproducts and consequently, less optimal conditions for cavity formation.
• Population changes. Over time, xylitol exposure influences the kinds of cariogenic bacteria that are dominant in a person’s mouth. When xylitol is present, xylitol sensitive strains have limited growth, allowing resistant bacteria to dominate. This population change makes it more difficult for the mouth to form cavities.
The bacteria in the mouth that bring about cavities can’t digest xylitol, which means that the growth is significantly retarded. In some instances, the quantity of acid producing bacteria decreases as much as 90 percent. As the pH of saliva and plaque don’t fall, no acid formation takes place.
Once an individual has used xylitol, the bacteria don’t stick on the surface of the teeth very effectively, which reduces the amount of plaque buildup. This means that there is less dental plaque and that the dental plaque that is present is less adherent. Both the starvation effect and the sub par living environment contribute to the reduced quantity of bacteria and consequently, amount of dental plaque.
Repairing Damaged Enamel
Using xylitol also assists in repairing enamel damage. Saliva plays a key role in protecting the mouth and teeth, and stimulated saliva contains all of the components required to repair early cavities. If an individual consumes a small amount of sugar, typically saliva can defend against cavities on its own. When an individual consumes sugar more frequently, the mouth doesn’t have enough defensive tools to fight cavities by itself.
Taking xylitol also heightens saliva functioning. Saliva that has xylitol is more alkaline than saliva that other sugar products have stimulated. Once an individual has taken a xylitol product, the saliva and plaque’s basic amino acids and ammonia concentration as well as plaque’s pH can rise. If the pH rises to seven or higher, the saliva’s phosphate and calcium salts can begin to move into the weak parts of the enamel. This process makes the soft enamel sites that are deficient of calcium start to harden again.
Xylitol vs Fluoride
Xylitol prevents the conditions that allow cavities to develop. In comparison, fluoride has a preventative nature to assist in repairing tooth enamel that has already undergone damage. Many people are quick to assume that one treatment method is better than the other. In reality, both approaches offer different benefits, which means that individuals can use one alongside of the other.
There are a variety of medical, dental, and nutritional xylitol products on the market including natural sweeteners, tooth gel, toothpaste, floss, oral mists, sinus spray, mints, chocolate, lollipops, peppermints, caramels, ice chips candy, and chewing gum. Just a few of the popular brands that contain xylitol include Oasis, Biotine, and Tom’s of Maine. Additionally, Hersheys’ Ice Breakers are not 100 percent xylitol but contain enough xylitol for users to reap its benefits. You should always read the ingredient list, paying special attention to the active ingredient list, to determine whether or not the product contains an adequate quantity of xylitol for it to be effective.
Talk to your dentist about the commercial xylitol products that will be the best fit for you and your family. For example, if you’re interested in having your children take xylitol, get a recommendation for a kid friendly xylitol toothpaste and start using a natural xylitol sweetener in your cooking.
It’s important to keep in mind that taking xylitol doesn’t reverse the effects of consuming large amounts of sugar overnight. Decreasing your sugar intake and increasing your use of xylitol products will slowly change your dental health for the better, creating strong, cavity free teeth that you’ll be able to keep using for decades to come.
Dr. Steffany Mohan is the Owner of Plaza Dental Group and is a leading dentist in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Mohan is an expert in implant, family and cosmetic dentistry, is Invisalign certified and has gained a reputation of excellence in the dentistry community. Plaza Dental Group has built a reputation for excellence and its close doctor-patient relationships, which has made them one of the premier offices of Iowa dentists