Natural and Organic Skin Care

Xylitol, A Natural Breakthrough in Oral Health

What IS Xylitol?

Have you heard the buzz about Xylitol lately?  Xylitol is similar to sugar in taste, but the effects on the body are quite different.  Sucrose (white table sugar) serves as food for the harmful bacteria in our mouths (plaque), resulting in acid production that creates cavities. Xylitol is a different kind of sugar known as a polyol (sugar alcohol). Sugar alcohols aren’t sugar (although they do taste sweet) and they aren’t alcohol–at least, not the sort of alcohol (ethanol) that we ingest in alcoholic beverages

Many people are surprised at Xylitol’s great taste and amazed to learn about its long history.  It is found in familiar fruits and vegetables, the wood of birch trees, and even the human body.  The oldest record of this “sugar for oral health” seems to have been about 2500 years ago, in a book of Chinese herbal cures. The remedy is “Zhin-he–tong” (“sugar from the white tree”) for cavities and gum disease.  Xylitol has none of the controversy that surrounds fluoride and it comes in a variety of usable forms that make it very easy, delicious and economical to use.  Side by side in a sugar bowl you can’t really tell them apart.

What Does Xylitol Do?

Xylitol not only rids the mouth of sticky harmful bacteria, it actually promotes the growth of tooth-protective, non-acidic good bacteria.  Xylitol has a much different effect on the plaque in our mouths, and prevents it from sticking to the tooth surfaces.  Plaque uses carbohydrates and sucrose from our diet to grow and multiply creating that “furry” feeling that you sometimes feel on your teeth.  The acids in plaque cause breakdown of the teeth and that is what leads to cavities.  Those same bacteria are what irritate the gums which leads to gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Regular use of Xylitol has been shown to not only reduce tooth decay but also facilitate the remineralization of teeth.  In Europe, children eating Xylitol had nearly 50% fewer ear infections.  Xylitol has been used by diabetics for decades, and it is poised to replace fluoride as the greatest scientific discovery for healthier mouths!

Why Do We Need Xylitol

For many populations worldwide, the levels of dental caries have reached epidemic proportions. Even in the U.S., childhood tooth decay is on the rise. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in the U.S. by the time kids are age 17, almost 80 percent have experienced tooth decay.

In Finland it is practically the opposite where 80 percent of high school graduates have no cavities. What is the difference? Finland schools regularly distribute Xylitol to the students.  In Belize, Dr. Peter Allen, head of the Ministry of Health, reports that in his country’s landmark study, Xylitol reduced cavities by more than 50 percent with results continuing to show that same reduction even five years after the study (and Xylitol usage) was completed. When mothers eat Xylitol they help to stop infecting their baby with cavity-forming bacteria, and help prevent generations of families with “bad teeth”.

How Much Xylitol Do We Need?

The dental benefits of 5 – 10 grams of Xylitol each day in frequent small doses range from reducing gum problems to preventing cavities. Strive for at least 5 separate exposures with 1-2 grams Xylitol at each event.    A small amount of Xylitol will work to prevent cavities when it is wiped over an infant’s new teeth. Even a tiny amount can prevent problems for a baby.  Less than 5 grams does not have as much effect, although every time Xylitol is eaten it does help to alkalize the mouth for some tooth benefits.

Xylitol can be dissolved in liquid (or straight in the mouth), eaten in candies, and chewed in gum, and even sweeten your coffee.  Avoid gum that mixes Xylitol and sorbitol together (Trident for example), the sorbitol seems to inactivate the Xylitol and is thought to possibly be a trigger for acid reflux.  Over time we hope that Xylitol will begin to make its way into homes across the world resulting in fewer incidences of disease so that we can begin to enjoy healthy mouths for generations to come!

 

Word of caution, Xylitol is toxic to pets and should be kept away from them.  In humans, high doses may have an initial laxative effect, or cause cramping and bloating (it acts as a fiber in our intestinal tract but the body regulates quickly), however, in pets, ingestion could be fatal.

Carrie Ibbetson, RDH

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