Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in fruits and vegetables. It's also added to some chewing gums and candies. Companies that manufacture these products often market them toward diabetics who need to watch their sugar intakes, but many of these products also claim that the xylitol in them helps prevent cavities.
Sugar, Xylitol and Tooth Decay
When you eat sugar, the bacteria in your mouth form an acid that leads to plaque on your teeth. If you don't brush the plaque away frequently, it builds up and starts to wear at the enamel on your teeth. This process can lead to cavities.
Unlike sugar, xylitol doesn't combine with bacteria to form plaque. It's also thought to be helpful against tooth decay because it's often found in gum, mints and hard candies. Consuming these products encourages saliva production, and the more saliva in your mouth, the easier it is for your body to naturally wash away harmful bacteria and bits of stuck food when you can't brush immediately.
Research on Xylitol
Research on whether xylitol really helps prevent tooth decay on its own is varied. Two studies compared over 4,000 Costa Rican children and found that children who used xylitol products had 13 percent fewer cavities than children who didn't, explains the New York Daily News. Both groups of children used toothpaste with fluoride.
A 2015 research review by The Cochrane Collaboration found that the data reported in these studies and others wasn't of a high enough quality to determine whether xylitol can prevent tooth decay independently, however. This doesn't mean that xylitol plays no role in preventing tooth decay -- just that more research and studies with better and more comprehensive data are needed before we can definitively say that the substance can help reduce cavities by itself.
Should You Use Xylitol-Containing Products?
There's definitely no harm in consuming products that contain xylitol as long as you don't experience unpleasant side effects, and they're certainly a better alternative than chewing gum or eating candies that contain sugar. But it's important to refrain from relying on xylitol to protect your teeth against decay and cavities. Good oral hygiene habits, including brushing and flossing at least twice a day and visiting your dentist regularly, are far more important to your overall mouth health. Chewing gum for 20 minutes after meals if you can't brush is also helpful in preventing tooth decay, as long as you chew a sugar-free variety, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Look for products with the ADA's Seal of Acceptance.
Contact a clinic like Mammoth Spring Dental Clinic LLC for more help with dental care.