Many chewing gums, candies, and throat lozenges claim xylitol – a sugar-alternative sweetener – can fight cavities. Several studies, including a recent project out of the University of Manchester in the UK, question this claim. In this post, we’ll discuss the study and the effects of xylitol on teeth.
What Is Xylitol?
This substance is a polyalcohol with a similar molecular structure to sugar. It stimulates the same sweetness receptors on a person’s tongue. While it is technically a natural substance because limited amounts are found in fruits and vegetables, most of it is made through industrial processes.
Since it contains 40% fewer calories than regular sugar, it is a popular ingredient for sugar-free gums, candies, mints, diabetes-friendly foods, and even toothpastes.
Summary of Xylitol’s Effects on the Body and Teeth
Unlike sugar, xylitol contains no fructose and has little to no effect on blood sugar. It also has a low glycemic index (7) compared to sugar (which ranges between 60 – 70).
In terms of its effects on teeth, several dental associations recommend it as a way to enjoy sweet flavors and fight cavities at the same time.
But the actual ability to fight cavities is under heavy debate. Unlike fluoride, which helps restore tooth mineralization so enamel can withstand the acid attacks from plaque bacteria, xylitol’s cavity-fighting properties are less proven. Most recently, a study performed at the University of Manchester concluded there was little to no evidence that xylitol’s presence in toothpaste and other products helped fight cavities.
Summary: Xylitol Is Good, But Not a Wonder Ingredient
Xylitol is an effective sugar substitute because it has such a low glycemic index and because it contains fewer calories. In terms of teeth protection, products like gum and mints should be used after meals to promote saliva flow. And since xylitol does not aid in the development of cavities, gums and mints with it are an excellent post-meal choice.
However, its ability to protect teeth from cavity-causing bacteria is still being debated. Any product that markets itself otherwise is not looking at the whole research picture.
Our office wants to help all of our patient families make smart food choices. So contact us if you have any questions about Xylitol or other sugar alternatives. We will be happy to discuss its effects with you.