Xylitol and Your Dental Health

If you’re concerned about your dental health, and have tried to eliminate sugar from your diet, you’ve probably run across “sugar alcohols” in the list of ingredients in most sugar-free foods.  When sugar alcohols are listed, they are talking about Xylitol, which looks and tastes like sugar, but has fewerSugar Free calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.

Several studies suggest that Xylitol can improve dental health and have various other important benefits.  Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar, but has fewer calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.

What is Xylitol and How is it Made?

Sugar alcohols are like hybrids of a sugar molecule and alcohol molecule. Their structure gives them the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue.  Xylitol is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables and is therefore considered natural.

It is a common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, candies, mints, diabetes friendly foods and oral care products.   Xylitol has a similar sweetness as regular sugar, but contains 40% fewer calories:

Xylitol is a refined sweetener, so it doesn’t contain any vitamins, minerals or protein. It is “empty” calories.   It can be processed from trees like birch, but it can also be made with an industrial process that transforms a plant fiber called Xylan into Xylitol.

Even though sugar alcohols are technically carbohydrates, most of them do not raise blood sugar levels and therefore don’t count as “net” carbs, making them popular sweeteners in low-carb products.

Xylitol Has a Very Low Glycemic Index and Doesn’t Spike Blood Sugar or Insulin

One of the negative effects of sugar (and high fructose corn syrup), is that it can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.  Due to the high amount of fructose, it can also lead to insulin resistance and all sorts of metabolic problems when consumed in excess.  Well… xylitol contains zero fructose and has negligible effects on blood sugar and insulin.  Therefore, none of the harmful effects of sugar apply to xylitol.

What About Your Teeth?

Numerous studies show that Xylitol, either by replacing sugar or adding it on top of the diet, can reduce cavities and tooth decay by as much as 30-85%. Xylitol starves the bad bacteria in your mouth and has major benefits for dental health.  Many dentists, including Dr Ybee, recommend using Xylitol-sweetened chewing gum.  This is because numerous studies show that Xylitol has powerful benefits for dental health and prevention of tooth decay.

One of the leading risk factors for tooth decay is a type of oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. This is the bacteria mostly responsible for plaque.  Although having some plaque on the teeth is normal, when it gets out of hand the immune system starts attacking the bacteria in it. This can lead to inflammatory gum diseases like gingivitis.

These oral bacteria feed on glucose from food, but they cannot use Xylitol. Replacing sugar with Xylitol therefore reduces the available fuel for the harmful bacteria.

Even better, the bad bacteria cannot use Xylitol for fuel, but they still ingest it. When the bacteria are full of Xylitol, they are unable to take up glucose, so essentially their energy producing pathway is “clogged” and they end up dying. In other words, when you chew gum with Xylitol (or use it as a sweetener), the sugar metabolism in the bacteria is blocked, and they literally starve to death.  Bad for them. Good for us.

In one study, using Xylitol-sweetened chewing gum reduced levels of the bad bacteria by 27-75%, while it had no effect on the friendly bacteria.

Xylitol Also Has Other Dental Benefits:

  • Xylitol increases absorption of calcium in the digestive system, which is good for your teeth and may also protect against osteoporosis.
  • It increases production of saliva. Saliva contains calcium and phosphate, which get picked up by the teeth and aid in remineralization.
  • Xylitol reduces the acidity of saliva, which helps to fight acid-driven degradation of tooth enamel.
  • Because inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, it makes sense that reducing plaque and gum inflammation could have benefits for the rest of your body as well.

One Big Caution! Xylitol is Highly Toxic to Dogs

In humans, Xylitol is absorbed slowly and has no measurable effect on insulin production. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about dogs.  When dogs eat Xylitol, their bodies mistakenly think that they’ve ingested glucose and start producing large amounts of insulin.

Dot with a birthday cakeWhen this happen, the dog’s cells start taking up glucose from the bloodstream. This can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and be downright fatal.

Xylitol may also have detrimental effects on liver function in dogs, with high doses causing liver failure.

So if you own a dog, then keep Xylitol out of reach (or out of your house altogether). If you believe your dog accidentally ate Xylitol, take it to the vet immediately.

Using Xylitol Can Help at Checkup Time

So, Xylitol can help your dental health in many ways, including reducing plaque, gum inflammation, preserving tooth enamel, reducing cavities.  It might even help you to shed a few pounds.  But no matter how much you substitute it for real sugar, it’s still important for you to keep up with your regular dental checkups.  Nothing can take the place of consistent oral exams to avoid significant future problems.

Got Calcium? A Healthy Mouth Needs Plenty

When you think of calcium, you probably think of bones. It’s true that this mineral is essential to keeping our bones strong, but calcium is also vital to the health of your teeth. In fact, 99 percent of the body’s calcium reserves are stored in the bones and teeth, where the mineral provides structural support.

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How much do you know about calcium and its important role in your body? Test your knowledge with this true-false quiz.

1. Aside from strengthening bones and teeth, calcium also helps muscles, blood vessels, and nerves work properly. T/F
2. Calcium is important only for adult women. T/F
3. Osteoporosis can affect the health of your teeth. T/F
4. Everyone needs the same amount of calcium. T/F
5. The time in your life when you need the most calcium is after menopause. T/F
6. Not getting enough calcium can raise your risk for periodontal (gum) disease. T/F
7. You can strengthen your bones with nonimpact exercise such as swimming or bicycling. T/F
8. Green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and collard greens, provide calcium. T/F
9.Your bones mass and skeleton become more fragile as you age. T/F
Here are the answers.
1. True. The mineral is also found in blood, muscle, and the fluid between cells. There, it helps muscles and blood vessels function normally, helps regulate hormones and enzymes, and helps transmit nerve impulses.
2.False. Calcium is essential for people in every life stage, from infants to seniors. Babies, children, and teenagers need calcium in order to develop strong bones and teeth; adults need it to maintain a strong skeleton and healthy teeth. Unfortunately, studies show that a huge number of American children, teens, and adults do not get the recommended amount of calcium. A calcium-deficient diet increases your risk of developing osteoporosis, a serious condition in which the bones weaken and are more likely to fracture.
3. True. Researchers say that osteoporosis can cause the jaw bone to weaken. The jaw bone is the “anchor” of the teeth. If it becomes damaged, teeth can loosen and fall out. In fact, women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to lose teeth than women with healthy bones. For denture wearers, bone loss from the jaw bone jaw bone can make it difficult to get dentures to fit or stay securely in the mouth.
4. False. The Dietary Reference Intakes recommended by the National Academy of Sciences vary with age and gender. Infants and toddlers (ages 1 to 3) need 500 milligrams (mg) per day; children ages 4 to 8 need 800 mg per day; older children and teens (ages 9 to 18) need 1,300 mg per day; adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 mg per day; and older adults (ages 51 and older) need 1,200 mg per day. Also, pregnant and nursing mothers younger than age 19 need 1,300 mg per day; pregnant and nursing mothers ages 19 and older need 1,000 mg per day. It is also important to note that adequate amounts of vitamin D are required for your body to absorb calcium from food.
5. False. According to the National Academy of Sciences, adolescents between ages 9 and 18 need the most calcium per day: 1300 mg. Women ages 51 and older are the next group that needs more calcium. They require 1200 mg per day.
6. True. In studies of calcium intake and gum disease, the participants with the healthiest teeth consumed more than 800 mg of calcium each day. At the same time, those who consumed less than 500 mg of the mineral each day were 54 percent more likely to develop gum disease.
7. False. Weight-bearing exercise—activities that require your bones and muscles to work against gravity while supporting your weight—are best for making bones stronger and denser. Examples of weight-bearing exercises are walking, jogging, aerobic dance, and weight training. Swimming and bicycling are good for your cardiovascular health, but are not weight-bearing exercises.
8. True. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.5 However, certain green, leafy vegetables are also rich in calcium. Calcium-fortified juice and breakfast cereal as well as canned sardines and salmon (with bones) are other good choices to boost your calcium intake.
9. True. But you can take steps to cut back on the loss of bone mass by getting enough calcium in your diet and incorporating weight-bearing exercise into your lifestyle. Avoiding tobacco and keeping alcohol use moderate will also help protect your bones and teeth.
Thanks to Delta Dental Oral Health Library for this article.