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Xylitol

The Xylitol Story

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By Jonathan V. Wright, M.D.

Sink your teeth into this irony:
A sugar prevents cavities!

I’ve grown rather annoyed with dentistry. Along with everyone else, I’ve brushed, flossed, and used “water-pressure” devices for my teeth and gums. I haven’t knowingly consumed any refined sugar or refined carbohydrates for nearly 30 years. Yet every so often the dentist has informed me it’s time to have another filling or two. Furthermore, to this day, no dentist has informed me—or anyone else—of the existence of a simple, safe, good-tasting way to significantly reduce the incidence of dental cavities. Not only does this method exist, but it first appeared in dental and other journals in the 1970s––and there’s now no question at all that it really works.

No, it’s not that hazardous (but politically correct) toxic waste byproduct, fluoride. So what it is it? Believe it or not, it’s a derivative of a natural, simple sugar.

Cavities are caused by the bacteria Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans). Short and long term use of xylitol results in fewer cavities.

Xylitol has been widely used in Finland since the sugar shortages of World War II. In the early ’70s, Finnish researchers discovered that xylitol prevents tooth decay, so they started making chewing gum containing it. They found that the S. mutans causing tooth decay fed on the xylitol but could not break it down or successfully metabolize it. Eventually, so much xylitol accumulates in these bacteria they get “indigestion” and can’t process other food sugars into the acids that destroy tooth enamel. (See the box, above right).

According to Dr. Luc Trahan, part of the faculty of dental medicine at Laval University in Quebec, as xylitol is used over time in the mouth, strains of “xylitol-resistant” S. mutans start to emerge. Their numbers increase from a very few to 40 percent or more of the total

Xylitol reduces tooth decay by 80 percent
John Peldyak, a dental researcher from the University of Michigan who has been involved in most of the dental research with xylitol in this country, has summed up the results of the past 25 years of clinical studies involving xylitol and tooth decay. Chewing xylitol gum once a day provides little protection. Twice a day reduces tooth decay
by 40 percent. Three times a day, by 60 percent, and five times a day—80 percent.

S. mutans population. But curiously, these “new” resistant strains aren’t as bothersome, and cause much less trouble with cavities.

Dental researchers wanted to find the best time to start children chewing xylitol gum. In a school setting in Belize, they gave six groups of children six different types of gum to chew four times a day for two years ––with enough on Friday to last through the weekend. At the end of the two years, the children chewing the xylitol gum had the best results in terms of incidents of tooth decay.

Five years later, the researchers returned to do a follow-up study. The children who had chewed the xylitol gum had 90 percent fewer cavities than the other children—without any exposure to xylitol for the five years since the original study ended.

Xylitol’s cavity-preventing effects are nothing short of amazing: A group of researchers led by Dr. Eva Soderling reported that when a “study group” of breast-feeding mothers chewed xylitol gum starting three months after giving birth, their children developed less growth of the S. mutans over time. The children themselves were never directly exposed to the xylitol.

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