Gum-chewers Have New Reason to Smile

In the eighties, artificial sweeteners in blue and pink packets, diet soda and sugar- free gum set the standard as “healthy” alternatives to their sugar-laden parent products. Today, there’s a new sweetener called xylitol touting sweet-as-sugar taste, a low-calorie makeup and studies now show it may help reduce and prevent cavities.

A natural sweetener found in plants and fruits, xylitol was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1986 as a food additive and is now appearing in sugar- free gum, mints, and toothpaste reports the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.

gum_chewers_winter2006Research confirms that of all factors studied, xylitol most likely inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the oral bacteria that cause cavities, according to Allen Otsuka, PhD, one author of a new study that appears in the July/August issue (Volume 50, Number 4) of the clinical, peer-reviewed publication, General Dentistry.

Cavities form when plaque—made of many oral bacteria—builds up on a tooth and eats into the outer enamel. In the presence of xylitol, bacteria lose the ability to adhere to the tooth, stunting the cavity-causing process.

While not new to the dental community, xylitol is now gaining attention among consumers since being added to several new mainstream sugar-free gums.

“I use xylitol and have recommended products that contain xylitol such as mouth rinses for patients with dry mouth,” says John Chandler, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

“While dentists need to monitor the continuing research on xylitol, I do see a place for patients using xylitol in conjunction with good oral health care.”

Dentists recommend children and adults brush twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste, visit the dentist twice a year and eat nutritiously to ensure a healthy mouth and body.

A U.S. government survey indicates that 85 percent of all American adults have experienced cavities; 30 percent suffer from untreated cavities which can result in serious oral health problems including pain and eventual tooth loss.

Experts recommend using xylitol directly after meals and snacks to help reduce plaque on teeth, inhibit bacteria and reduce contact time of sugar on teeth.

Tips for keeping your mouth sugar-free throughout the day

  • Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy; children can keep travel-size products in lockers or backpacks and adults should keep a spare pair at work
  • Chew sugarless gum, with or without xylitol, after meals or snacks when unable to brush
  • Drink water throughout the day to help cleanse teeth of excess bacteria