A Look at the Dental Benefits of Xylitol
Over 400 strains of bacteria inhabit the human mouth. These bacteria are the cause of most dental problems. Sugar is one of the major energy sources for these bacterias and it helps them proliferate. Sugar causes tooth decay by creating a highly acidic environment in the oral cavity that weakens enamel and makes it vulnerable to attack by bacteria, leading to tooth decay.
Xylitol, which is a non fermentable natural sugar alternative has the exact opposite effects and can help in caries prevention, remineralization of caries lesion and alteration of the composition of the oral flora (bacteria that inhabit the oral cavity).
Xylitol and S. Mutans
S. Mutans (Streptococcus mutans) is a common part of the oral flora and it is one of the primary culprits behind tooth decay and caries. It metabolizes sugar to produce lactic acid that weakens tooth enamel. In addition to that, it is one of the main cause behind the creation of dental plaque. Xylitol, unlike sugar cannot be fermented by S. Mutans and a number of studies have shown that xylitol can suppress S. Mutans (1,2)
pH is a measure of acidity, lower pH means a more acidic environment. Low pH in the oral cavity weakens tooth enamel but also creates a hospitable environment for the bacteria that are responsible for the formation of caries. It is basically a vicious cycle, bacteria produce acids that lowers the pH and create an environment in which the same bacteria thrive and multiply and produce more acids. Since xylitol is not metabolized to acids and also inhibits the growth of acid producing bacteria it can help neutralize the pH of the oral cavity with all the associated dental health benefits.
Xylitol and Enamel Remineralization
As we have already mentioned, xylitol has a number of protective effects. In addition to that, use of xylitol can help repair damaged enamel. Trials, both in vivo and in vitro have shown that xylitol can promote tooth remineralization(3) and as a result prevent dental caries.
- Loesche WJ, Grossman NS, Earnest R, Corpron R. The effect of chewing xylitolgum on the plaque and saliva levels of Streptococcus mutans. J Am Dent Assoc.1984 Apr;108(4):587-92.
- Milgrom P, Ly KA, Roberts MC, Rothen M, Mueller G, Yamaguchi DK. Mutans
streptococci dose response to xylitol chewing gum. J Dent Res. 2006
- Mäkinen KK. Sugar alcohols, caries incidence, and remineralization of caries
lesions: a literature review. Int J Dent. 2010;2010:981072.