Xylitol: The Plaque Fighting Sugar Recommended in Pediatric Dentistry

You may have come across xylitol in the ingredients list on your gum, but did you know that it’s a hot topic in the pediatric dentistry realm? Xylitol is, perhaps, one of the only sugars you’ll hear dentists actually recommending that you and your little ones consume. Here are the sweet facts on xylitol!

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance found in the fibers of fruits, vegetables, and hardwoods. Xylitol is usually sourced from birch trees or corncobs. It’s a sugar alcohol with a granular structure, just like regular sugar, that first came into popularity when wars caused sugar shortages, and people needed an alternative. Xylitol has fewer calories than regular sugar and zero carbohydrates, so it’s often found in sugar-free or diet foods.

More Than Just Delicious

Xylitol was discovered in the 1890s and was approved by the FDA for dietary use in 1963. Since then, many scientific studies have been conducted to determine how xylitol interacts with dental plaque. We all know that regular sugar can wreak havoc when left on teeth (more on that here) but xylitol actually aids in repairing minor cavities caused by tooth decay.

How? Xylitol causes a slight rise in pH in the mouth, which causes calcium and other necessary nutrients to fill in small cavities in the tooth’s enamel, where needed. Studies have shown that with continued use of xylitol, sites that are calcium-deficient begin to harden again. 

Apart from this, xylitol does not encourage tooth decay like regular sugar. Instead, xylitol attracts harmful microorganisms, then starves them. That means that bacteria won’t be able to absorb into the surface of the tooth very well, and the amount of plaque decreases. Just another day at the office for xylitol, fighting tooth decay one microorganism at a time.

Where to Find Xylitol in Central Oregon

Xylitol appears in many sugar-free products, like mints and chewing gum. It’s found in some foods, like hard candies and jams. You can also find it in personal care products, like toothpastes and sinus cleansers. Keep an eye out for “nature’s cavity fighter” – that’s a sure-fire way to know that xylitol will be listed in the ingredients!

Some people even buy xylitol in its raw form, in the baking or natural foods aisles of the grocery store. In central Oregon, you can almost always find it at Whole Foods. Amazon is also a great place to find raw xylitol as well as products containing it. Spry is a great brand if you’re looking to purchase raw xylitol.

Questions? Feel free to bring up xylitol at your next pediatric dentistry appointment at our central Oregon office – we’d love to discuss it!

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