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What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that helps prevent cavities.  You may recognize other sugar alcohols used in sugarless products, such as mannitol and sorbitol. Xylitol is the sugar alcohol that shows the greatest promise for cavity prevention. It is equal to sweetness and volume to sugar and the granular form can be used in many of the ways sugar is used, including to sweeten cereals and hot beverages and for baking (except when sugar is needed for yeast to rise).

Xylitol inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities. It does this because cavity causing bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) cannot utilize xylitol to grow. Over time with xylitol use, the quality of the bacteria in the mouth changes and fewer cavity causing bacteria survive on the tooth surface. Less plaque forms and the level of acids attacking the tooth surfaced is lowered.

Studies show that cavity causing bacteria is passed from parents to their newborn children, thus beginning the growth of the cavity causing bacteria in the child. Regular use of xylitol by mothers has been demonstrated to significantly reduce this bacterial transmission, resulting in fewer cavities for the child.

Xylitol is most often found in chewing gum and mints. You must first look at the list of ingredients to know if a product contains xylitol. Generally, for the amount of xylitol to be at cavity-preventing levels, it must be listed as the first ingredient. Health foods stores can be a good resource for xylitol containing products. Additionally, several companies provide xylitol products for distribution over the Internet.

Xylitol gum or mints used 3-5 times daily, for a total intake of 5 grams, is considered optimal. Because frequency and duration of exposure is important, gum should be chewed for approximately 5 minutes and mints should be allowed to dissolve. As xylitol is digested slowly in the large intestine, it acts much like fiber and large amounts can lead to soft stools or have a laxative effect. However, the amounts suggested for cavity reduction are far lower than those typically producing unwelcome results.

Xylitol has been approved for safety by a number of agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Xylitol has been shown to have cavity-preventive qualities, especially for people at moderate to high risk for decay, when used as part of an overall strategy for decay reductions that also includes a healthy diet and good home care.

For more information about xylitol, call 218-326-3437.