Xylitol: What It Is and How It Protects Your Teeth

Xylitol: What It Is and How It Protects Your Teeth

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Xylitol Helps Teeth
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The sweetener xylitol has been getting a lot of attention lately due to its ability to fight plaque and its harmful effects on dogs.

If you’re curious about what xylitol actually is, if it has any nutritional value, and how it helps your teeth, then this article is for you!

What is Xylitol?

XylitolXylitol is a natural sugar alcohol.  That means that on a molecular level it looks just like sugar, but it has a few extra atoms attached to it that make it classified as an alcohol — not the kind of alcohol that can make you drunk!  In fact, xylitol isn’t a liquid.  It looks almost like sugar as you can see in the picture above.

Xylitol tastes sweet, just like sugar.  Unlike artificial sweeteners, xylitol has almost no aftertaste.

Xylitol has been touted to be safe for diabetics and those with hyperglycemia.

Does Xylitol Contain Calories?

Unlike most artificial sweeteners, xylitol does contain calories.  Xylitol has about 10 calories in one teaspoon.  As a comparison, sugar contains about 15 calories in a teaspoon.

How Does Xylitol Protect Teeth?

We still need more studies done with xylitol until we can fully understand how xylitol helps our teeth.  There are some pretty good theories out there though.  Here’s a few:

Xylitol protects teeth by inhibiting glycolysis in the bacteria that live in your mouth.  Glycolysis refers to breaking down sugar.  The bacteria in your mouth break down sugar into acid products that harm your teeth.  Since xylitol inhibits the digestion of sugar by the bacteria, it is believed that xylitol protects your teeth.

Another theory of how xylitol works to protect your teeth is that it makes it so that the bacteria in your mouth can’t stick to your teeth as easily.  The bacteria in your mouth produce substances called polysaccharides (you can think of them as hands) that bacteria use to latch on to your teeth.  If the bacteria can’t stick to your teeth it’s a lot harder for them to harm your teeth.

Finally, xylitol can help teeth by sparing them from sugar.  If you sweeten your tea or coffee with xylitol instead of sugar then the plaque in your mouth won’t be able to harm your teeth.

What Products Contain Xylitol?

Trident Chewing Gum that Contains XylitolXylitol can be found in many chewing gums, such as Trident Minty Twist chewing gum pictured to the right.  Lots of chewing gums contain other cheaper sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol which haven’t been shown to help your teeth as much as xylitol.

Xylitol can also be found in certain toothpastes and mouthwash.

Finally, you can find pure xylitol at certain grocery stores or you can find the bag pictured above on Amazon.

Have You Tried Xylitol?

My wife and I went to Costco over the weekend and I made sure we got some chewing gum with xylitol in it.  I think chewing gum is the only exposure I’ve had to xylitol.

Have you tried xylitol as a sugar substitute?  Do you have any questions or comments about xylitol?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section below — Thanks for reading!

10 COMMENTS

  1. My family and I use gum, mints, candy, toothpaste, mouthwash, and nasal spray all exclusively sweetened w/ Xylitol. Its helped my daughter w/ ear infections and its made for amazing dentist and doctor visits. We LOVE to use Xlear and Spry products because they’re only sweetened w/ Xylitol and without any of the chemicals that other companies like trident, dentyne, and ice breakers use.

  2. I purchased Spry gum, candy, and baby tooth gel for our family online at Spry’s website after being given some samples at the dentist’s office. The gum tastes good, but the longevity of flavor and texture is pretty poor in comparison to Trident’s many xylitol flavors. I do use granulated xylitol and stevia as partial sugar replacements in my cooking and baking, which is nice. You really can’t use xylitol as a 100% table sugar replacement in baking, as I’ve read that xylitol doesn’t caramelize = no browning = no good! 🙂

    • Hi Alysha – Thanks for the great info! You reminded me that I received some samples of a xylitol gum when I went to a dental conference last year. If I remember right, the gum tasted pretty good, but it started to deteriorate in my mouth after an hour or so. I’m not sure if it was Spry or another brand though.

      I think not caramelizing is a main problem with lots of the sugar replacements. Maybe someday we’ll be able to eat great-tasting sugar-free baked goods. Thanks for your comment, Alysha!

  3. My dentist and I have been experimenting with ways to reduce harnful sugars in my
    diet, and while her practice has started suggesting Xylitol to patients, on my own I
    have started using stevia. My dentist was unfamiliar with stevia. . .I was wondering if
    you were aware of any research on stevia vis-a-vis it’s effect on teeth, and possibly a
    direct comparison to Xylitol?

    • Hi Carl – This study was the only one I found and it simply compared Stevia to regular sugar (sucrose.) It simply had students not brush for five days and rinse their mouths with either a sucrose solution or a stevia solution four times per day.

      They found that less plaque had accumulated on those who rinsed with Stevia. This probably doesn’t give you exactly what you were looking for, since it doesn’t compare stevia to xylitol. However, they had some theories on how Stevia could act against plaque formation:

      ” Stevia contains tannine, xantines (theobromine and cafeine) and flavonoids that have anti-plaque activity (Menaker 1989).Several authors have shown that tannin, one component of guarana, and Stevia have anti-cariogenic effect when added to the diet of rats, as well as anti-bacterial action (Oliveira de et al. 1985).

      The stevioside, as cited by Yabu et al. (1977) presents a light effect over the enzymes that are responsible for the decomposition of sugars, a discrete inactivation of the dextran-sucrase and light static effect over cariogenic bacteria. Pomaret and Lavieille (1931) have demonstrated that the stevioside ingested was rapidly eliminated as such, i.e., it was not hydrolyzed by the organism, i.e., it has no calories. ”

      I hope that helps, Carl. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I’ve using the pure Xylitol for a couple of months now, and have noticed a vast improvement in my gums, as well as my teeth. My gums are pinker and just feel much stronger. I had soreness underneath a crown, and the dentist suggested that some periodontal work would probably be required. After 2 months of the Xylitol, all the pain is gone.

  5. Tom:
    I drink a lot of powerade zero and have had some erosion of the enamel on my teeth.
    I dilute the powerade zero 5 or 6 to 1 with water.
    Does this diminish the bad effect it has on my teeth?
    It is important that I drink a lot of fluids and water is so boring.
    Any ideas for alternatives if the highly diluted powerade zero is too bad for my teeth?
    Thanks.
    Mark

    • Power ade and gatore aid have an ingredient called cotric acid it eats away your teeth try drinking it with a straw

  6. On our way to being nearly 70 we are both experiencing mouth problems.
    I had such a lacerated painful sore toungue that an E.N.T.specialist said to take a side bottom tooth out which led to the crown next to it coming out a couple of years later as it was as a crown with a root filling. I now cannot eat on that side for fear of the tooth above which is not completely firm coming out, I am worried now that as my teethin general have been compromised that myself & husband could do with some help
    Could this product with regular use be of help to us please?

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