{GUEST COLUMN} Health: What is Xylitol?

By Kari Brennan
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Xylitol is spelled with an “X” but pronounced with a

Kari Brennan
“Z” sound. (Z-I-LI-TALL). Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that is widely used as a sugar substitute. Chemically, it is a sugar alcohol, and found naturally in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce, trees and some other fruits. Xylitol inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities. It does this because these bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) cannot utilize xylitol to grow, unlike other sugars. Bacteria from food causes an “acid attack” on our teeth if present in the mouth for a long period of time. This “acid attack” causes tooth decay and cavities to begin to form. Over time with xylitol use, the quality of the bacteria in the mouth changes and fewer and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces. Xylitol is a natural sweetener derived from the fibrous parts of plants. It does not break down like sugar and can help keep a neutral pH level in the mouth. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth.
According to the American Dental Association, the physical act of chewing tends to increase salivary flow. If you chew sugarless gum after eating, the increased salivary flow can help neutralize and wash away the acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria in plaque on your teeth. Over time, acid can break down tooth enamel, creating the conditions for decay. Increased saliva flow also carries with it more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel. Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay. In the future, look for chewing gum that delivers a variety of therapeutic agents that could provide additional benefits to those provided by the ability of gum to stimulate saliva flow. For instance, some gum might contain active agents that could enhance the gum’s ability to remineralize teeth and reduce decay, or enable gum to help reduce plaque and gingivitis. Chewing gum is even more effective at preventing cavities if it contains a sugar replacement called Xylitol.
Many products out there contain Xylitol. Gum, mints, suckers etc. Over-the-counter you may look for Trident & Trident Fusion with Xylitol, Trident Xtra Care, Orbit, Ice Breaker Ice Cubes and Mentos Pure. Ice Breakers FROST and Ice Breakers Cool Blast Chews are a great option too. Online you can find Spry products, Epic Gum, Peelu Xylitol Gum, Xylobursts and the list goes on.
Like anything else out there, in moderation Xylitol is safe and effective for human consumption. For more information please feel free to contact White River Dental Hygiene or visit credible websites to read studies conducted on Xylitol at www.ada.org or www.epicdental. com/v-280-scientific-studies-support-xylitol

Kari Brennan is a Registered Dental Hygienist and the owner of White River Dental Hygiene in Meeker.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Xylitol is considered safe for humans, but it is toxic to dogs. Make sure your canine companions don’t gain access to products containing Xylitol (besides chewing gum, it is commonly found in mints, toothpastes and mouthwashes. Since it’s also considered a good sugar substitute for diabetics, xylitol is used in sugar-free baked goods too. Xylitol is present in some brands of children’s chewable vitamins and other supplements and certain brands of peanut butter. If your dog consumes Xylitol-containing products, take them to a veterinarian immediately.)