What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a sweetener, like sugar, made from from the fibrous parts of plants, mostly the bark of birch trees and corn cobs.
Xylitol is said to be a “natural” sweetener, but in reality, it has been highly processed in order to made it consumable for the human body–you wouldn’t normally be able to digest tree bark and corn cobs like a cow can. Xylose IS a natural sweetener found in fruits and vegetables but it is not xylitol.
What is the big deal about xylitol?
Xylitol can have a pretty significant effect on your mouth. Decay is a disease caused from bacteria that nestle around the teeth in a sticky goo called biofilm. The bacteria are fed and protect themselves with the help of sugar, and then after they digest the sugar they produce “bacterial poop” or acid, that stays around the teeth. This acid is what will corrode your teeth and make holes. The sugar also helps the bacteria make their protective biofilm of polysaccharides.
Is xylitol effective?
Xylitol is especially effective against the cavity forming bacteria called S. Mutans because of their love for sugar. It has no effect on the bacteria that cause gum disease but it is effective against the biofilm that they live in. Because xylitol is super sweet, the cavity causing bacteria in your mouth will be attracted to it and eat it. But the bacteria cannot digest it and they die. When the bacteria die, they do not make any poop. And when there’s no usable sugar to regenerate their biofilm to protect themselves, the biofilm cannot be maintained and will disintigrate. When there’s no biofilm, there is no acid sitting around the teeth. This will reduce the chance of getting cavities and also gum disease.
Xylitol is also very effective in helping prevent cavities because it increases the saliva, or spit in your mouth. When you chew, your saliva increases, so if you chew xylitol sweetened gum, your body produces more saliva. This helps protect your teeth against acids.
What type of products have xylitol in them that can help your mouth?
There are a dozens of xylitol products available. There are all sorts of gum, mints, lozenges, toothpastes, vitamins, mouthwashes, gels, candies, and sprays. Check the ingredients list and make sure that xylitol is first on the label and not any other sweetner like saccharin and aspertame. Most gums in the grocery store have a combination of sweeteners and are not recommended. To get products that are sweetened only with xylitol you may have to go to a health food store or purchase online. Carefully weigh what the ingredients are and what would be right for you.
Xylitol has also been used to prevent bacterial ear infections and there are many products available for this. It is said that xylitol makes things “slicky” and not “sticky” so bacteria cannot attach to mucous membranes. I have used Xlear nose spray to prevent getting sick and it has been quite effective though over-use has really bothered my eyes.
What is the recommended dosage of xylitol to be effective?
For dental care and the prevention of cavities, it is recommended for adults to have 8-10 grams or 8-10 doses of xylitol over the course of a day. Young children should have 3-8 grams or 3-8 doses a day. One large dosage once a day is not as effective as having small dosages all throughout the day, keeping the saliva constantly replenished with xylitol. For example, each piece of xylitol gum has between .84-1.4 grams of xylitol in it, so in order to get 8-10 grams of xylitol, you would need to eat 6-10 pieces of gum a day, so one or two after you have something to eat. But if you use xylitol toothpaste or mouth rinse, or you ate a xylitol candy, or sucked on a lozenge, that would also give you another dosage.
Is xylitol safe?
There is a bit of a controversy regarding xylitol. First of all, some xylitol is made from GMO corn cobs. Second, the process of manufacturing xylitol includes hydrogenation and the use of nickel, a metal infamous for allergic reactions. Third, xylitol can cause stomach and digestive problems. Fourth, destroying bacteria in the mouth can disrupt the body’s natural balance of bacteria. Fifth, there is no long term research showing that it is completely safe. And sixth, xylitol in large dosages (50-100 g) can kill dogs.
When considering using xylitol, it is important to do research and decide if it is best for you. Now, as for myself, I cannot eat xylitol as a sweetener in my food, it really upsets my digestive system. Like I said above, I have used it in preventative ways. Because it has some benefits for your health does not mean that you need a lot of it. Small exposures to xylitol over the course of a day can be helpful in the mouth, but excessive amounts can be harmful.
If you choose to use xylitol products, my basic reccomendations are as follows:
- make sure that the xylitol products you buy are made from non-GMO corn or birch bark. Canada prides itself on having the largest supply of xylitol made from birch bark.
- Check the ingredients label and make sure that xylitol is at the top of the list and that there are no other sweeteners in it.
- To use xylitol to reduce bacteria in the mouth it needs to be used consistently throughout the day. Having 8-10 g a day is recommended for adults, or 8-10 doses, and 3-8 g for young children, and can be obtained in toothpaste, mouthrinse, gum, candies, etc.
- If you have any reactions to xylitol, discontinue using it. This may include digestive problems, rashes, headaches, and eye irritations.
- Keep xylitol products away from dogs at all times. The small amounts of xylitol in a piece of gum may only make them sick and but large doses can kill.