We’ve all learned that sugar causes cavities. It does, but the process isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Everyone’s mouth contains plaque bacteria. These bacteria thrive on sugars, even ones from healthful sources like fruit. When you consume sugary foods, the bacteria scarf it down and then, like all living beings, emit waste. In the case of plaque, this waste is highly acidic and, if not removed, can eat away at tooth enamel, leaving you susceptible to decay.
It takes 24 hours for the acid to damage your teeth and gums. Removing it is why dentists recommend brushing twice a day and flossing at least once.
Cleaning your teeth every time you eat is even more beneficial – but often difficult in our busy lives.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a product that could not only remove the acid from your teeth but protect your enamel as well – and taste sweet to boot?
In fact, there is. The California Dental Association, Delta Dental and other dental organizations suggest using xylitol, a sugar alcohol, to help prevent tooth decay. An American Dental Association study concluded that replacing sucrose with xylitol “may significantly decrease the incidence of dental caries.”
According to the xylitol.org website, xylitol derives from plants, usually corn cobs, which are normally a waste product. It’s not artificial, but rather is fibrous and not digestible by plaque bacteria, which means there’s no waste to generate acid. According to the website, xylitol fosters a neutral pH level in your mouth and prevents plaque from sticking to the teeth. Some research indicates xylitol can even help repair early damage to your tooth enamel.
Xylitol was approved as a sweetener by the Food and Drug Administration in 1963. It’s safe for humans – in fact, we produce it in our digestive tracts – but not in our mouths where it would benefit oral health. When first manufactured, it was considered a boon for diabetics.
You can find xylitol not only in chewing gum and hard candies but also in toothpastes, nasal sprays, beverages, jams, baked goods and even dental floss – but you may have to read the ingredients to know it’s there. Xylitol can also be purchased raw for home use as a sugar substitute (in equal amounts with sugar, though results vary). It is not as effective when combined with other sweeteners.
If there’s a hitch, it’s only that xylitol must remain in your mouth for periods of time throughout the day – making chewing gum, perhaps, ideal.
Dentists recommend chewing xylitol gum for at least five minutes at a time and allowing xylitol candies to dissolve slowly. With regular use, you can achieve optimal dental health in several months.
Despite xylitol’s promise in reducing tooth decay, it is not a magic cure.
Xylitol can be only one component of an effective oral health routine, not a substitute for brushing and flossing. However, dental professionals agree it may be worth a try to expose your mouth to xylitol every day and substitute it for sugar when you can.