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Curing the Sweet Tooth

The temptations of sugary foods and sticky candies can often be too tempting to resist. The chewy treats get stuck in crevices and in the grooves and ridges of teeth. The end result is a favorable environment to create caries, or tooth decay. The prevalence of dental caries touches most everyone. In some populations, the incidence is epidemic. Water fluoridation has had a tremendous impact in reducing the incidence of dental caries. The fluoride ion binds with the enamel of the tooth and makes the surface more resistance to acid attacks that initiate the caries process. Unfortunately, dental caries rates continue to rise. The impact on the wide spread use of bottled water has effected the benefits of fluoridated municipal water supplies, as most filtered artesian wells that are the source of bottle waters and are often devoid of naturally occurring fluoride. Sealants are also an attempt to prevent the formation of caries in the chewing grooves of patients. But access and affordability to preventative dental care remains a limiting factor. The key would be to provide a solution that would have a minimal and low cost impact on dietary restrictions and life style, and actually taste great without significant effort.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sugar substitute that not only could reduce dental caries, but also prevent it?

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is a naturally occuring compond that can cure the need for that sweet tooth.  Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol and is also a natural metabolic by product of the liver, which explains why it is safe for human consumption. Our bodies produce 15 grams of Xylitol every day. It was discovered in the late 1800’s but wasn’t until sugar shortages in World War II that it was manufactured in a crystalline form for dietary consumption.  Until recently, it was only found to be an ingredient in gum.

How does Xylitol work?  When sugar is consumed, it is reduced in the mouth and creates a lower caries–promoting pH.  Xylitol, however, does not create this effect and instead is accumulated in S. Mutans (the bacteria primarily responsible for caries), which inhibits their growth.  The result is, that consuming Xylitol stops the cavity causing bacteria from growing and significantly reduces the risk of cavity formation.  There have also be some promising benefits discovered beyond the mouth.  Xylitol can also reduce the amount of insulin required in diabetic patients.  There have also been noted antibacterial benefits associated with the body’s natural cleansing process.    Studies have also shown us that caries causing bacteria are often transmitted from mother to child.  Because of this Xylitol has been encouraged in the use of expectant and young mothers to decrease their caries-producing bacteria.

Too much of a good thing can also have an impact.  The recommended intake of Xylitol is approximately 6-10 grams per day.  Too much can result in gastrointestinal upset.  A common source of Xylitol is chewing gum.   Patients with tempormandibular dysfunction may also not benefit from the parafunctional activity of chewing gum.   Interestingly, although safe for human consumption, Xylitol is not tolerated by dogs and can be lethal.

For more information about the benefits of Xylitol and whether you would benefit from introducing it into your diet, ask your dentist or hygienist.  Dr. Scott Finlay is a restorative, family dentist in the Annapolis area.  His practice focuses on the comprehensive and advanced esthetic rehabilitation of his patients.  www.annapolissmiles.com