…… XYLITOL AND CAVITIES
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a unique five-carbon structure. This structure is non-fermentable to bacteria, which is one reason it can prevent cavities. When used in regular dental care, xylitol works against Strep. mutans, bacteria that cause tooth decay. Xylitol breaks down bacterial biofilms and inhibits bacteria from sticking to the gums and teeth. In the normal metabolic process, bacteria feeds on sugars in the mouth, producing acid which, when not taken care of, eats away at the enamel and leads to cavities. When xylitol is used, bacteria cannot metabolize, and the acidity levels in the mouth fall, thus preventing cavities and raising the pH in the mouth, which allows for an overall increase in oral health.
Xylitol can be found in a number of dental products, from toothpaste to chewing gum. Some studies have shown that consistent use of chewing gum containing xylitol reduced the risk of caries by 59%. Whether it’s in chewing gum or mouthwash, xylitol offers a strong defense against cavities when combined with regular oral care.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease
Serious mouth diseases, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, can occur when a person does not take care of plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and gums. Plaque and tartar buildup cause the inflammation and infection which leads to these diseases. Not only is regular dental care recommended to treat and prevent plaque and tartar buildup, xylitol use also inhibits and controls the formation of plaque and tartar, and can reduce gingival inflammation.
Overall Health is Connected to Oral Health
The mouth is the gateway to the body. If teeth and gums are not properly cared for, the rest of the body is at risk. For example: there is a strong connection between heart disease and oral health. According to one major finding, the infection from decayed teeth and periodontal inflammation is directly linked to heart disease. In addition, oral infections can lead to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to many health issues, including stroke, diabetes, migraines, and even oral cancer. When xylitol is used in regular oral health, as discussed previously, bacteria is prevented from multiplying and flourishing in the mouth, and as such, lowers the risk of these other harmful diseases. Therefore, good oral health can lead to improved general wellness.
Protecting the Good Bacteria
Just as xylitol prevents harmful bacteria from multiplying and destroying enamel, it encourages the activity of good bacteria in the mouth. In general, a blanket killing of all bacteria can be harmful—some bacteria are needed to keep the body healthy. In the mouth, good bacteria help start the digestive process and promote good oral health. Because xylitol fights against bad bacteria and lets good bacteria remain in the mouth, it supports the natural defenses of the mouth.
Some studies show that, when used during pregnancy, the benefits of xylitol can be transferred to the baby through maternal imprinting, and can last several years after the child is born. In these studies, dental carries (another term for cavities) were shown to be reduced by 70% at age two, and by age ten the need for dental restoration was decreased significantly.
Cavities are an All-Day Problem
A normal oral routine typically includes brushing and flossing in the morning and evening. Because most diets are rich in sugars and starch, the fourteen or so hours in between brushing and flossing leaves a long time for bacteria increase and begin eating away at the teeth. Cavities can therefore form even if teeth are seemingly being cared for.
Taking time during the day to care for your mouth is the best way to fight against the bacterial growth that happens in between brushing. You don’t need to bring a toothbrush and floss to the office—there are other ways to keep your teeth free of bacteria. Xylitol gum, mints, or candies is enough to help inhibit the increase of bad bacteria and prevent cavities. Studies show that three exposures of xylitol are needed each day for clinical effect, and best results come when the exposure count is increased to five. With proper care, xylitol is proven to effectively help prevent against gum disease and cavities.