Monday, December 9, 2013

Element X

Meet XYLITOL, pronounced: zy-lit-awl, a non-sugar dietary sweetener that is becoming increasingly prevalent in foods, toothpastes, vitamins, mouthwashes, gum, lozenges...the list goes on.

Although it tastes sweet, Xylitol is structurally different than sugar and does not act the same in your body.

There are a number of artificial sweeteners on the market (sucralose, aspartame, for example), but Xylitol is unique in its ability to change the environment of your mouth. Cavities (tooth decay) are formed by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. Xylitol temporarily stops cavity-producing bacteria. To understand tooth decay in detail, read my post: How Cavities Form.

Does Xylitol prevent tooth decay?

There is no firm evidence at this time that Xylitol prevents tooth decay, but many dental studies are working on it. Xylitol products definitely have a positive effect in your mouth, but researcher cannot decided whether it is the Xylitol preventing the tooth decay, or the extra saliva you make when you chew the Xylitol-sweetened gum or eat the Xylitol lozenge/product. Note: saliva actually helps prevent tooth decay.

Concerns on safety

The FDA considers Xylitol generally safe as a food additive for human adults and children. It is not safe for pets. Thus far, the only side effects we know are diarrhea and stomach trouble when consumed in high doses. Per the FDA, there are no concerns with ingesting the small amount of Xylitol added to sweeten gum, foods, etc. I do not recommend any high dosage use of Xylitol products without consulting your doctor.

Bottom line: Dentists are in favor of Xylitol-sweetened products because of the effect on bacteria in your mouth. Chewing sugar-free Xylitol gum after meals may help prevent tooth decay, but we do not know for sure. We also do not yet know Xylitol's effectiveness when used in baby toothpastes.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA is Warning Pet Owners on the Dangers of Xylitol Ingestion in Dogs and Ferrets. Accessed February 18, 2011:

Milgrom P, Ly KA, Roberts MC, Rothen M, Mueller G, Yamaguchi DK. Mutans streptococci dose response to xylitol chewing gum. J Dent Research. 2006;85(2):177–181.

Antonio AG, Pierro VS, Maia LC. Caries preventative effects of xylitol-based candies and lozenges: a systematic review. Journal of Public Health Dentistry. 2011; 71(2):117-124.

Zero, DT. Are sugar substitues also anticariogenic? The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2008; 139(2) 5S-10S.

Burt, BA. The use of sorbitol- and xylitol-sweetened chewing gum in caries control. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2006 ;137(2) 190-196.

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