Educating Dental Patient about the Health Benefits of Xylitol

Introduction

One of the most common causes of dental decay is our diet and poor dental hygiene. Many people, even today, do not regularly brush or floss their teeth. Cavities have been associated with dry mouth, advancing age, use of certain cancer drugs and a dry mouth. In all these scenarios the universal culprit is an acidic pH, which has the potential to demineralize bone. When the saliva is acidic, this also results in leaching out of calcium, and this eventually results in softened enamel and eventually to tooth decay.

Dental cavities not only affect lifestyle but often the pain is unbearable. Further, a visit to the dentist for treatment of dental caries is always expensive. For years, scientists have tried to come up with a way to prevent cavities. While tooth decay rates have decreased since the introduction of fluoride, the numbers are still relatively high. It is not realistic or practical to avoid all processed or synthetic foods that contain high sugar in our diet. Sugar is now ubiquitous in our foods and without sugar, our food would be bland and non-appetizing. Hence, another approach to tackling the sugar problem in food is to reduce the amount of this simple carbohydrate and incorporate xylitol into the diet. Research show that that exposure to xylitol for as little as 5 minutes can neutralize the acid in the mouth, thus, preventing the detrimental effects of acidity.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in many types of plants including certain vegetables and fruits (e.g., berries). In fact, xylitol is frequently extracted from birch wood to make some herbal medications. Chemically xylitol is a simple 5-carbon molecule that mimics glucose. It is considered to be a simple sugar like alcohol but is neither a pure alcohol or sugar. Chemists claim that xylitol is a simple carbohydrate that resembles sugar but has none of the harmful effects of sugar. When used as a sugar substitute, xylitol has all the benefits of sugar but has much fewer calories.

What are uses of Xylitol?

Today, xylitol has found multiple uses. It is used as a sugar substitute and is a frequent ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, candies, and mint. Some people even recommend the use of xylitol as a sugar substitute in their caffeinated beverages. As a medication, xylitol is sometimes used by alternative healthcare practitioners to treat infections of the middle ear in children. As a sweetener, it is often recommended for diabetics as a sugar substitute.

In the world of dentistry, some dentists even recommend chewing gums containing xylitol, and there are several other oral dental products like mouthwashes and toothpaste that also contain xylitol. Xylitol containing solutions are now recommended for the dry mouth and prevention of tooth decay.

Can one get xylitol from food?

Many vegetables and fruits contain xylitol, but the biggest problem is most people do not regularly consume an adequate amount of this food to get the desired dental benefits. On the other hand, if too much xylitol is ingested it can lead to stomach upset.

How does Xylitol work?

Xylitol has a sweet taste like sugar, but it is not broken down in the oral cavity to acids that cause tooth decay. More important xylitol has been found to decrease the levels of bacteria that are known to cause tooth decay. Overall, xylitol appears to be more efficient at reducing tooth decay compared to other products like sorbitol. Xylitol has been shown to decrease the stickiness of the plaque allowing it to slide off easily when brushing; this way the bacteria in the plaque are not able to break down xylitol as a nutrient. Since microorganisms are not able to use any nutrients in the plaque, their life span in the oral cavity is diminished. The other benefit of xylitol is stimulation of saliva; it is well known that in people who have reduced the flow of saliva this leads to a porous enamel and an increased risk of tooth decay. By stimulating saliva, xylitol can relieve the discomfort of a dry mouth and at the same time prevent cavity formation. Unlike sugar, xylitol is not a good food source for the bacteria strep mutants which is responsible for dental caries.

What are benefits of xylitol?

The benefits of xylitol include the following:
It requires no invasive process to keep the oral cavity disease free.
It does not affect lifestyle
It causes minimal disruption to lifestyle
It works and prevents dental caries
Is a painless remedy to prevent cavities
It increases salivation and prevents the dry mouth syndrome as well.

What is a dose of xylitol?

Based on scientific data, when taken orally the dose of xylitol that is safe is between 8-12 grams of xylitol. Xylitol is available in chewing gums, lozenges, and syrup and can be taken in divided doses after every meal. Xylitol can also be applied to the skin or given candy to children at a dose of 7-20 grams per day.

Does Xylitol Work?

There have been many studies conducted on the effectiveness of xylitol as an aid to preventing caries. The majority of studies reveal that when the therapeutic dose is used, dental cavities can be avoided. However, it is also important to understand that xylitol is not a substitute for fluoride or the dentist.- It is a complementary therapy that is used in conjunction with other means of preventing dental caries.

While evidence is mounting that xylitol can prevent dental caries, the problem is that many of the chewing gums and toothpaste do not contain the right amount of concentration to be effective. Thus, the consumer should read labels and only use products that have the right concentration.

How is xylitol available?

Xylitol is available in many formulas for both adults and children. For xylitol to work it should not be combined with other dental products. Some expert says that the 100% concentrated formula is most efficient and should be used 3-5 times a day to decrease plaque build-up and tooth decay.

Is xylitol approved for dental use?

Xylitol is accepted for dental use in many European countries including Finland, Sweden, and Britain. In the USA several state dental associations have approved for its use as an aid towards prevention of dental cavities.

Is xylitol safe?

The amount of xylitol found in natural foods is safe for consumption. When used as a medication or as a sugar substitute, it is safe if the dose does not exceed more than 50 grams a day. There is some concern that when xylitol is used for prolonged periods in high doses, it may cause the growth of tumors. However, the most common side effects of xylitol are excess gas and diarrhea. In children xylitol doses of fewer than 20 grams are safe. Because not enough is known about xylitol in pregnancy, it is best for pregnant and breastfeeding females to avoid this product.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that xylitol is not the panacea for all dental cavities; to maximize the benefit from this agent; one also has to make changes in lifestyle. This means avoiding too many sugary snacks. Limiting consumption of cola beverages and brushing and flossing regularly.

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