The common childhood problem of tooth decay is preventable. Untreated tooth decay and cavities in either baby teeth or adult teeth can be extremely painful and impair the look and function of the teeth.
Despite routine pediatric dental examinations and consistent oral care at home, some children can still be more likely to have tooth decay. Xylitol has recently been identified by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) to help reduce childhood tooth decay.
What is xylitol?
Naturally occurring xylitol, a non-fermentable sugar alcohol, is found in low concentrations in the fiber of many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol can be extracted from berries, oats, and mushrooms, or fibrous materials such as corn husks, sugar cane bagasse, and birch. Ingesting six grams of xylitol per day can improve dental health.
How does xylitol work?
Electron microscopy has determined that xylitol can cause demineralized enamel to remineralize. Harmful bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and carbohydrates. The acids that the bacteria produce can harm tooth enamel. Xylitol’s ability to neutralize the acids means that it can impede the destruction of tooth enamel, ultimately reducing the likelihood of cavities developing. Because xylitol doesn’t ferment, it doesn’t feed bacteria in the mouth.
Saliva production also increases upon ingestion of xylitol. This excess saliva can wash away food particles, plaque, and bacteria. The combination of xylitol and fluoride can help teeth remineralize. When enamel regenerates, cavities are less likely.
When should my child start using xylitol?
Young children shouldn’t chew xylitol gum. Children who are toddlers and older can ingest xylitol as a sugar substitute or as a result of regularly eating fruits and vegetables. Older children can chew xylitol gum to reduce the formation of new cavities.