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  • Lacy Walker

Discovering the Sweet Secret: Xylitol!

Updated: Aug 10, 2023


Before discussing Xylitol, let’s define what sugar is and how it affects us orally and systemically.

Sugar can impact our health through the microbiome (bacteria) in our mouth. The microbiome is comprised of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our mouths, and it plays a critical role in our overall health. When we consume too much sugar, it can disrupt the balance of the microbiome and lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This can contribute to gum disease, other oral health problems, and systemic health issues. While it’s clear that sugar can have a negative impact on our oral and systemic health, it’s important to remember that moderation is vital. By limiting our consumption of sugary foods and drinks, practicing good oral hygiene, and seeing a dentist regularly, we can protect our teeth and gums and reduce our risk of other health problems.


There is no doubt that sugar can have a negative impact on our oral health. When we consume sugary foods and drinks, the bacteria in our mouth feed on the sugar and produce acid, which can erode our tooth enamel and lead to cavities. However, the effects of sugar on our oral health go beyond just cavities. Recent research has shown a link between oral health and systemic health, meaning that poor oral health can contribute to other health problems throughout the body.

Sugar's Impact One of the ways that sugar can impact our overall health is through inflammation. When our teeth and gums become inflamed due to poor oral hygiene or gum disease, it can initiate an immune response that leads to inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to various health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Non-nutritive sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners have increased in popularity as they are sweeter and are required in substantially lesser quantities. The most valuable properties of sugar alcohols are their sweetness, low-calorie content, and non-cavity-causing. For example, a diet soda won’t give you extra calories, but it also won’t deliver the nutrition your body needs.

Benefits of Xylitol The dental benefits of Xylitol were first recognized in Finland. The first chewing gum developed to reduce caries and improve oral health was released in Finland in 1975 and in the United States shortly after. (1) More than 35 countries have approved the use of Xylitol in foods, pharmaceuticals, and oral health products, principally in chewing gums, toothpaste, syrups, and confectioneries.


Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that the bacteria cannot metabolize like they can with regular sugar. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that has promising benefits in reducing dental cavities and reversing early carious lesions because the bacteria cannot metabolize; it does so by starving the bacteria. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in fruit, vegetables, and berries. (2)


It is artificially manufactured from xylan-rich plant materials such as birch and beechwood. The uniqueness of Xylitol is that it is practically nonfermentable by oral bacteria. This particular sugar alcohol inhibits the bacterial growth of oral bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria responsible for cavity development because the bacteria are unable to metabolize this sugar alcohol.


More Benefits of Xylitol

Xylitol can inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria, but its benefits do not stop in the oral cavity. A recent Cochrane review concluded that Xylitol also increases saliva production and reduces the growth of acidogenic bacteria in the oral cavity. Other benefits of Xylitol include an increase pH level of the saliva. Xylitol is the only sweetener that has been shown to reduce the potential for tooth decay and halitosis. Xylitol promotes mineralization by increasing the salivary flow when used as chewing gum.


Also, there is a decrease in the amount of dental plaque when there is consistent consumption of Xylitol. Xylitol can be found in sugar-free gum, beverages, and food such as peanut butter and baked goods.


Habitual xylitol consumption may be defined as daily consumption of 5–7 g of Xylitol at least three times a day. The health benefits of Xylitol are not limited to oral hygiene. Xylitol efficiently stimulates the immune system, digestion, lipid, and bone metabolism. Be careful about your consumption because too much can cause gastrointestinal issues.


Dogs and Xylitol

Xylitol is detrimental for dogs but does not cause any concerns for cats. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include decreased activity or weakness, vomiting, and possible seizures.


Xylitol recap:

  • Xylitol is a sugar alcohol

  • Inhibits the growth of harmful oral bacteria.

  • Benefits in reducing dental cavities and reversing early carious lesions.

  • Stimulates the immune system, digestion, lipid, and bone metabolism

  • Daily consumption consists of 5-7 grams/day


References

2. Xylitol – The Periogen Company. https://www.periogen.com/pages/xylitol


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