If you are constantly looking for ways to keep your teeth healthy while still enjoying sweet treats, you have likely come across products containing xylitol instead of sugar, sucralose, or other sweeteners. Xylitol has a reputation for preventing tooth decay, so it's been showing up in more and more products. But you must use it wisely to ensure you get the best result. Here's what you need to know about using xylitol and whether it would be a good addition to your tooth care routine.
You may already know that xylitol is a sweetener, that it can be used in place of sugar, and that it's widely used in gum and mints. It is really a sugar alcohol, a natural molecule that you find in a lot of foods and plant products. A sugar alcohol is not the same as drinkable alcohol, which is a fermented product made from fruit or grains; Yale-New Haven Hospital notes it's a molecule that has a chemical structure that is somewhat similar to both sugar and alcohol. However, the structure is different enough so that, if you ingest xylitol, you are not ingesting actual alcohol and getting drunk. Sugar alcohols are quite common additives; other types include sorbitol and mannitol.
When you chew or eat something with xylitol, you get the same sweetness as sugar, but the bacteria on your teeth can't metabolize xylitol to produce those acids responsible for decay. The idea behind using gum and mints containing xylitol is that you're providing your tastebuds with the sweetness they want while also keeping your mouth occupied so that you don't lunge for sugary treats, all the while starving the mouth bacteria of their needed fuel.
Not a Cure-All
However, that doesn't mean you can use xylitol exclusively for tooth care. There is also some controversy over whether xylitol is as good as people think. The "New York Daily News" says many of the studies supporting xylitol were not of optimal quality.
What that means for you is that any xylitol product you use can help, but it will not fully prevent you from ever having another cavity again by itself. So, if you're looking for a magic bullet, xylitol isn't it. But if you just want to give your teeth every chance they can get to be healthier, adding xylitol gum or mints to your day is certainly OK.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Like most products, you can have too much of a good thing with xylitol. Excessive amounts can cause diarrhea, so stick to chewing only a few pieces of gum per day. Reader's Digest suggests six to seven pieces of gum per day. Be careful with mints, however, as it's easy to find yourself popping the mints like candy and eating an entire box rather quickly. Try to limit intake to 6 to 10 grams per day, per Xylitol.org.
Dangerous for Dogs
Keep all xylitol-containing products away from dogs. Even a tiny bit of Xylitol can be toxic to dogs, so if you can't keep the products locked away, you may want to avoid using them if you have a dog.
If you have other questions about xylitol or other sugar substitutes, talk to a dentist, like Artistic Dentistry by Gerard Wasselle, DMD. You'll get the most up-to-date information as well as sound advice for easy care of your teeth and gums.