REDUCING DECAY WITH XYLITOL

Sometimes, despite diligent brushing and flossing, a patient will continue to develop tooth decay. In such situations, I believe that balancing a patient’s body chemistry will prevent further decay. This, however, is a difficult and elusive task to accomplish. While this effort to rebalance the body is in progress, the patient may continue to get tooth decay.

A traditional dentist will often prescribe the use of toothpaste with 10,000 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride or an at home tray to use with a 10,000 ppm fluoride gel. Using a toxic product like fluoride appeals neither to me nor to my type of clientele.

I have discovered the best thing to use in such a situation is sugar…not any ordinary sugar, but one that is very special. Let me explain.

There is a sugar alcohol called xylitol, which is a naturally occurring substance found in vegetables, fruit, corncobs, as well as in various hardwood trees like birch. Discovered in 1891, xylitol has 40% fewer calories than regular table sugar (sucrose) and is about as sweet as sucrose. Xylitol remained on the sidelines until WWII. Due to the shortage of sugar, people began using xylitol as a sugar substitute. Years later, it was noticed that those who had used xylitol had better health. This led to research about xylitol. The research has yielded many interesting, positive results with really no negatives except for diarrhea in a handful of people. There are no known toxic levels of xylitol.

The commonly used sugars, sucrose, fructose, and corn syrup all raise blood sugar and insulin levels as they are transformed into glucose (blood sugar). In the U.S. it is estimated by the USDA that each person consumes about 20 teaspoons per day of sugar. This does not include that sugar which is naturally occurring in foods. Ingestion of sugar leads to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

Xylitol has a minimal effect on blood sugar and insulin. It is metabolized and absorbed slowly, giving a slow steady release of energy. It is the ideal sweetener for diabetes. This is just the beginning of the wonderful benefits of xylitol.

The bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, is responsible for causing decay.

Six-carbon sugars like sucrose and sorbitol, are food for strep mutans. Xylitol has 5 carbons and significantly reduces the growth of strep mutans by starving them. Also the xylitol raises the pH (less acidic) in the saliva. Strep mutans loves an acid environment, and when the mouth becomes less acidic they don’t do well, allowing non cavity causing bacteria to thrive and reduce the strep mutans population. In other words the “good” bacteria increase and keep the strep mutans in check.

Studies show reduction of caries (decay) of about 80% when consuming 8-10 grams of xylitol/day for 8-12 months. The reduction of strep mutans continues long after stopping the xylitol and may confer lifetime immunity to decay.

Chewing on xylitol gum or sucking on xylitol candies between meals makes these a wonderful, easy method of caries reduction. But the benefits don’t stop here. Some studies show arrest, or even reversal, of existing decay by retarding demineralization of enamel and by promoting the remineralization of enamel.

Xylitol helps the remineralization of enamel by binding with calcium. This calcium-xylitol complex aids absorption of calcium through the intestines. Looking further into this benefit of increased calcium absorption, a study on rats showed increased bone density with the use of Xylitol.

Another dental benefit of xylitol is that it retards periodontal disease. Xylitol disrupts the adhesion of bacteria to epithelial cells, like those under the gum. This can also be beneficial when dealing with bacteria in the nasopharanyx, sinuses, and ear. Xylitol has been shown to reduce ear and sinus infections as well as those of the throat and lungs.

Xylitol also reduces H. pylori, the bacteria associated with stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.

The only real problem I could find associated with xylitol is in regard to dogs. Xylitol can drop a dog’s blood sugar very quickly resulting in possible seizures.

For people however, xylitol is extremely safe. People have consumed up to 400 grams/day for extended periods with no harm.

When one weighs all the positives against virtually no negatives, you can see why I have become a big proponent of xylitol.

© 2006, Mark A. Breiner, DDS

The information presented is for educational purposes only. You should consult a qualified dentist or health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.