By now, you’ve probably heard of xylitol, a sweetener found in many types of chewing gum. The American Dental Association recommends using products that contain xylitol instead of sugar.
Multiple studies show that lozenges, hard candies, and chewing gum containing xylitol are effective for cavity prevention, and that patients who have a high risk of tooth decay could benefit from a combination of fluoride and xylitol products.
At the Sudbury, MA dentist office of Dr. Janice Spada, we offer fluoride treatments and preventive dentistry to protect and fortify your teeth.
What is xylitol, and how does it help my teeth?
Xylitol, a sugar alcohol, is neither a sugar nor alcohol. Confusing, right? Sugar alcohols are found naturally in plants, most notably fruits and vegetables. Alternately, sugar alcohols are manufactured from starches and sugars.
Examples of similar sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol, which are made from corn syrup, seaweed, and starch, respectively. Not all sugar alcohols are equally sweet. Sorbitol, for example, is around 40% less sweet than pure sugar. Xylitol boasts the distinction of being the only sugar alcohol that is as sweet as pure sugar.
Advantages of xylitol go beyond matters of taste. The sweetener has only half the calories as sugar, and it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. This explains why xylitol is the preferred sweetener for patients who have diabetes. Another unique benefit? Its molecular structure is such that bacteria living in your mouth are unable to utilize xylitol, so it truly does prevent cavities.
Does xylitol pose any threats to my health?
As with many food ingredients, xylitol can cause health problems if consumed in excess. Your intestines cannot fully absorb the sweetener, which ferments and creates gas in your digestive tract.
These problems—flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea—are more uncomfortable than dangerous, and you would have to chew a great deal of xylitol-sweetened gum to notice any such effects.
While xylitol is safe for human consumption, the same cannot be said for man’s best friend. Like chocolate, xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. Never leave a package of chewing gum within reach of the family dog.
Questions about oral care products? To learn more about oral health, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Janice Spada, contact our Sudbury dentist office at (978) 443-3111. We welcome patients from the Boston suburbs, including Worcester, Marlborough, Framingham, Hudson, and nearby communities.