If you could add something to your diet to improve your dental health, you would. Right? While most of us would, the numbers would drop dramatically if the recommended substance had a taste we didn’t like.
As dentists, we’re glad when we can recommend a dietary change that most people won’t mind making. Xylitol gum is an easy – and even tasty – way to boost your mouth’s cavity-fighting capabilities.
How Can Xylitol Help Your Teeth
Xylitol is a kind of alcohol that is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and other plants. The human body also produces it in small amounts. It has numerous uses in medicine, including as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes and to prevent middle ear infections in young children.
In recent years, food manufacturers have begun using it as a sweetener. It contains 40 percent fewer calories than sugar. It also helps prevent dental decay in several ways:
- It lowers the amount of decay-causing bacteria in saliva
- It makes it tougher for bacteria to stick to teeth, where they create plaque
- Unlike sugar, your body doesn’t convert it to acids that can eat away at tooth enamel
- It can help increase your body’s absorption of calcium, which strengthens teeth so they are more resistant to decay
Why Xylitol Gum Is a Good Idea
You can consume xylitol in numerous ways for its dental benefits, including toothpaste, mouthwash, mints, mouth sprays, and even nasal sprays. However, we think xylitol gum is one of the best.
Gum is portable, so you can carry it around with you and chew a piece after every meal. Also, as with any sugar-free gum, the simple act of chewing it spurs saliva production. Saliva not onl fights cavities by washing away bits of food, it also helps prevent dry mouth and related conditions like halitosis (bad breath). Perhaps most important, since many people like the taste of xylitol gum, they won’t mind adding it to their diet.
What to Look for in Xylitol Gum
In general the more xylitol your gum contains, the better its cavity-fighting properties. Reading the label will tell you a lot about your xylitol gum. Ideally, your gum will deliver at least one gram of xylitol in each piece. For best results:
- Look for a gum that lists xylitol as its first ingredient
- Avoid gums that also contain cheaper sweeteners like sorbitol and manitol
- If gums do contain other sweeteners, make sure they appear after xylitol on the ingredient list
To recap, your best bet is to find a gum that lists little else but xylitol, a gum base, and perhaps other natural flavors like spearmint oil or peppermint oil. Most gums also contain gum arabic (which adds texture) and carnuba wax (a glazing agent). If you do see other sweeteners such as sorbitol, make sure they appear lower in the list of ingredients than xylitol.
While some brands of gum commonly sold in retail stores contain xylitol, it may be easiest to find gums with higher levels of xylitol in health food stores.
More Tips to Maximize Xylitol Gum Benefits
To get the maximum benefit from xylitol gum:
- Chew a piece three to five times a day
- Chew your gum for at least five minutes
- Look for a gum that also contains CPP-ACP (casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate, also known by the trademarked name Recaldent), a substance that helps remineralize your tooth enamel
- Don’t use xylitol gum as a substitute for brushing and flossing
- Avoid gums that contain citric acid, as it counteracts xylitol’s positive effects