What is Xylitol?
Growing up we would always spot brands of xylitol chewing gum in Asian supermarket counters and were curious why brands use xylitol in the first place and its effects on overall dental health. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in plants. It's commonly used as a sugar substitute. The dental benefits of xylitol was first discovered in 1970 via animal models in studies that investigated xylitol, fructose, and sucrose and their effect on dental caries. It's predominant modality is in chewing gum form as it accelerates the process of rinsing away acid compared to other forms such as tablets, syrups or in candy form.
How can Xylitol effect or prevent dental caries?
Studies found that xylitol gum had the greatest capacity to reduce levels of streptococcus mutans in plaque and saliva by disrupting energy production pathways of streptcoccus mutans compared to other forms of xylitol, ultimately leading to death of these caries causing bacteria in the oral cavity. Since S. Mutans production is disrupted by Xylitol, it can also reduce plaque formation, decrease demineralization of te enamel and dentin. Although chewing gum has been found to be the most effective and predominant modality of introducing xylitol iinto the oral cavity, its effectiveness is still unclear because the characteristics of all chewing gums increases salivary production and ultimately saliva benefits a healthier mouth by neutralizing acids from foods, hence the efficacy of xylitol gum on its own is still limited.
Overall the accumulations of research still found that xylitol products, especially chewing gum, are effective preventative treatment for caries prevention and preventing S. Mutans colonies. Perhaps distributing Xylitol chewing gum in school settings for young children is an effective preventative public health strategy, since young children are the most hig-risk group for dental caries. It is important to note that Xylitol chewing gum is not a cure all for preventing caries. It is crucial that the implementation of Xylitol must be accompanied by proper brushing and flossing techniques.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.
Brian Y. Kuo DDS FAGD