The X Factor

Jun 27,2013

There is an X factor in the dental world, and it has nothing to do with Simon Cowell or Britney Spears. What would you think of something that tastes as sweet as sugar, is all natural, and is good for your teeth? I would think it is unbelievable, but it is true, and this magic X factor for your mouth is called Xylitol.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring carbohydrate, that looks and tastes just like regular table sugar. It is a natural sweetener that can be extracted from any woody fibrous plant material. Mostly it is extracted from corn cobs, and also from less environmentally sustainable sources such as hardwood. Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar.

Believe it or not, regular use of xylitol in oral care has shown remarkable effectiveness. Xylitol's five-carbon structure keeps it from being metabolized by bacteria, most importantly the bacteria that causes decay in teeth, Streptococcus mutans. By using 100% xylitol products throughout the day, bacteria is prevented from creating the acids that damage the teeth and plaque is prevented from gaining hold on tooth surfaces. I like to think of it like this – if this bad bacteria isn’t being fed by the Xylitol, because it can’t metabolize it, then the bacteria isn’t strong enough to cause trouble, like create cavities.

So how should you use this Xylitol, and where do you get it? The best thing is to expose your mouth to it a few times in a day. Lately I have found it becoming more available in things like chewing gum . My favorite is Icebreakers Ice Cubes - lots of flavors, all with Xylitol.

Mentos Up2You is another gum with Xylitol.

Now I haven't seen these products promote that they inhibit tooth decay, but that's OK. I am telling you if you chew a piece for 5-10 minutes a few times a day , you are doing something good for yourself.
There are other ways you can get Xylitol. Just look at the ingredients and make sure Xylitol is the main sweetener. More and more grocery stores are selling toothpastes, gum and mouth rinse with xylitol, and you can buy an entire bag of it near the sugar too. I am not sure about cooking with it, but you can add it to a drink.

Another added benefit of combating this Strep mutans with Xylitol is cleaner teeth, which means whiter teeth. Some professional tooth whitening products are adding Xylitol to them to increase their effectiveness.

One side note - although the chewing of the gum with Xylitol is good for your teeth, be careful how long you chew it! Too much gum chewing can cause soreness in the TMJ area, which leads us to an entirely different oral problem.

So you see, sweet things aren't all bad - especially if it is the X factor!