A healthy, beautiful smile should be free of tooth decay. The latest studies reported in dental journals have found natural toothpaste ingredient xylitol to have several benefits towards a cavity free smile.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, including berries. It is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar and is used as a sugar substitute (most often in sugar free chewing gum). It's a sugar alcohol sweetener which means it will not affect your blood sugar, which is good news especially for those concerned about diabetes. Xylitol has a very low glycemic index of 13. The icing on the cake for xylitol is that it has fewer calories than sugar. As with most sugar alcohols, if too much is consumed, it can temporarily cause side effects such as bloating, cramps and diarrhea, but it's perfectly safe in small amounts.
Benefits of Xylitol in Natural Toothpaste
Bacteria that cause tooth decay, love anything that ferments on the teeth. Fermentable sugars include simple carbohydrates such as table sugar and white flour products. The bacteria, mostly mutans streptococci, turn the fermentable sugars into acid and start the process of destroying tooth structure. It appears that xylitol inhibits mutans streptococci from causing damage. (Journal of Dental Research 85 (2): 177-181).
When xylitol is introduced to the teeth for several months through chewing gum, the mutans streptococci are shed from plaque (sticky white film that coats the teeth) to the saliva. They become unable to adhere tightly to teeth surfaces, which means they are not causing damage with acid. It also starves the population of the cavity-forming bacteria that live in dental plaque.
Most of the studies so far have been with xylitol containing chewing gum. It has been proven that xylitol in gum helps reduce tooth decay by as much as 70 percent. (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry; 2006: Policy on the Use of Xylitol in Caries Prevention).
Many dental schools have programs set up to determine your risk of tooth decay. If you are at high risk, you are asked to use xylitol gum. Chewing 2 pieces of xylitol gum after meals for five minutes helps reduce tooth decay and promotes saliva. Maintaining adequate amounts of saliva, helps neutralize harmful acids.
Tooth Decay is Contagious
Most people do not realize that tooth decay is contagious. Moms can transmit the tooth decay causing bacteria to their children. A six year study in Finland tested pregnant women and the benefits of xylitol gum on the new born. (Xylitol and Dental Caries: An Overview for Clinicians; March 2003; Journal of the California Dental Association)
The Finland study took 195 pregnant women who were at high risk for tooth decay. They were divided into three groups. One group chewed xylitol gum starting at three months and continued to 21 months after giving birth until their children were 2 years old.
The second group received fluoride treatments, called fluoride varnish, at 6, 12, and 18 months after giving birth.
The third groups received a 'chlorhexidine' (antiseptic) treatment at 6, 12, and 18 months after giving birth.
The children of these women were tested after six years. The study concluded the children whose mothers chewed xylitol gum had significantly lower levels of harmful bacteria in their mouths than the children in the other two groups.
Fluoride vs Xylitol
In January of 2011, the United States federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that fluoride levels in tap water are too high. They found higher levels of a condition called 'fluorosis', which is teeth with white spots due to fluoride uptake. Fluorosis can also cause enamel, the outer surface of the tooth, to become pitted and therefore, aesthetically unpleasant.
Fluoride may also be toxic is large amounts are swallowed by a child under the age of six, which is why there is a warning on all toothpaste containing fluoride. For those who are concerned about fluoride, xylitol toothpaste can be a great alternative to help prevent tooth decay.
In 2007, Dr. Peter Milgrom, professor of dental public health sciences at the University of Washington and director of the Northwest Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities, found that xylitol can be more effective than fluoride. He said it stops bacteria in the mouth from emitting acid that causes tooth decay, and it makes it harder for bacteria to adhere to tooth surfaces.
Dr. Milgrom's study monitored 100 infants as they received varying dosages of xylitol syrup each day for a year. They concluded that the syrup prevented 50 percent to 75 percent of tooth decay in the toddlers. "If you give children regular fluoride treatments two to three times a year, you would get a 30 percent reduction in tooth decay," Milgrom said. "We got double the amount of tooth decay prevention using xylitol."
In another study, 1,277 children participated in a double-blind research with various concentrations of xylitol and/or sorbitol. The children were divided into nine group: xylitol chewing gum in four different concentrations, two forms of xylitol/sorbitol gum, sorbitol-only gum, sucrose (table sugar) gum, or no gum.
The best reduction of cavities appeared with the group that used the gum with the highest xylitol concentration. (Journal Dental Research; 1995;74:1904-1913)
Other Xylitol Facts
Other important facts about xylitol include:
- With regular use, xylitol helps reduce tooth decay.
- Xylitol helps neutralize pH of saliva, and fights damage by harmful bacteria.
- Xylitol helps remineralize (repair) areas in enamel that have just started to be damaged.
- Xylitol is safe if swallowed, and does not necessitate a warning label on the back of a product.
- Xylitol helps with dry mouth by increasing saliva.
- Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and will not affect blood glucose levels for people with diabetes.
- Other benefits of xylitol include reducing ear infection. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 857 children with xylitol (in chewing gum, syrup and lozenges) found positive results for prevention of ear infections. (Pediatrics; 1998; 102:879-884)