Xylitol is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in some plants. It is even made by the human body. It looks like sugar and has a similar sweet taste, but is considered a healthy alternative for people with diabetes.
Xylitol might have a use beyond helping people control their blood sugars: fighting cavities!
Cavities are caused by acid made by harmful bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. These bacteria thrive on sucrose (a very common form of sugar) and other carbohydrates in our diet. For babies and small children, the bacteria are often passed from mother- to child by food sharing and affection.
When we eat or drink carbohydrates, the bacteria in the mouth make a lot of acid for about 30 minutes. Don’t worry! Saliva acts to buffer the acid, bringing the pH in the mouth back to neutral.
Problems come up when we snack and drink often or when we don’t clean the carbohydrates off our teeth well. Both of these can result in lots of acid that gets stuck on our teeth. Acid takes away the minerals from our teeth. Over time this may cause cavities.
How can Xylitol help?
When harmful bacteria absorb Xylitol, they cannot multiply, make acid or stick to teeth. By blocking the harmful bacteria, Xylitol helps healthy, non-acid producing bacteria spread. A healthier balance of oral bacteria means less acid, less plaque and less cavities.
Xylitol is especially helpful for people with dry mouth, because saliva is important in protecting our teeth from acid. It’s also good for people who have a hard time with good oral hygiene habits, like children and adults with disabilities (not just those of us who might have fudged how much we actually floss…).
How do I use Xylitol?
It’s not as important how much Xylitol you use, but how often you use it. Supporters of Xylitol to prevent cavities like to say “Strive for Five”. Try to use 100% Xylitol 4 or 5 times per day (about 6-10 grams total) . You can try Xylitol toothpaste, mouthwash, and even Xylitol floss. Or try Xylitol gum, mints or candy after meals and snacks. You can even use Xylitol to sweeten drinks such as coffee and tea.
Pure Xylitol and products with Xylitol can be found in health food stores and online. Be sure you talk to your dentist! He or she can give you more advice on how to use Xylitol to help prevent cavities and keep your mouth healthy.
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