Xylitol For Caries Prevention

February 20, 2012

Bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay need sugar to survive.  They use sugar in many forms as their energy source and reproduce rapidly.  Most sugars such as sucrose, lactose, and fructose feed bacteria and help them to reproduce.  In metabolizing these sugars, bacteria release harmful acids that can damage tooth structure. These acids can be produced for up to 30 minutes following each sugar exposure from food or beverages. Take a moment to think about how many times throughout the day something containing one of these sugars passes by your lips.

Fortunately, there is alternative sweetener that will not contribute to process of caries formation and can help reverse demineralization with regular use. Xylitol is an organic sugar alcohol derived mainly from birch wood trees, although it can be derived from other plant sources as well.  Xylitol will inhibit bacterial growth and will keep pH from dropping to acidic levels when used in place of other sugars and sweeteners. Furthermore, the use of gums and mints may stimulate salivary flow which buffers acid and naturally  remineralizes our teeth.

Many commercial products will combine different types of sugar alcohols for different reasons, however, only products sweetened primarily with xylitol have been shown to have the greatest anticariogenic effect.  Look for xylitol first in the list of ingredients in chewing gums and mints.  The optimal usage of a xylitol containing product for dental health is 5 times per day.  This can be in the form of toothpastes, mouth rinses, and breath sprays, or in chewing gums and mints.  Ideally, the use of xylitol products should be spread out over the course of a day, and when possible, should be used instead of any conventionally sweetened products, and not at the same time as other sweeteners. Xylitol gums and mints are particularly helpful to use throughout the day for those that suffer from dry mouth, or after meals and snacks when brushing and flossing can’t be done right away.

You can find a wide range of both food and dental products containing xylitol at just about any health food store and many general grocery and drug stores.  At Loving Family Dental we offer Spry mints which are a best seller in three delicious flavors: peppermint, lemon, and berry.  We encourage you to try these and other xylitol products which will promote your dental health.

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