Dental Benefits of Xylitol
Friday, May 22
At the Xlear seminar in Rome, I learned about some of the amazing therapeutic properties of xylitol. First, some definitions. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, present in fruits like plums. But technically, it's not a sugar--chemically, it's a sugar alcohol. It's similar in structure to fructose, but only 40% of it is absorbed and metabolized into energy by the body. That means you get the sweetness, with less than half of the caloric impact.
In addition, xylitol does not promote an insulin response by the body. In contrast to sucrose, or table sugar, whose glycemic index is 100, xylitol's glycemic index is just six. This makes it preferable to most other sweeteners in terms of reducing the likelihood of insulin-resistance, or Syndrome X.
But is it possible to put on the pounds with xylitol? Not likely, considering its laxative effects when taken at high doses--greater than six or eight sticks of gum, or a dozen or more mints. The laxative effect of modest doses of xylitol may even be welcome for those suffering from constipation.
But it's not the sugar-substitution benefits of xylitol that interest me. I'm not a big believer in sugar substitutes because, even if they reduce caloric intake, they tend to stoke cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Experimental subjects have been shown to lose little weight using this strategy.
Rather, it's xylitol's medicinal effects that I find intriguing. They fall into two main categories: Dental, and respiratory system.
Let's consider dental first. Ever have the experience of consuming a Coke, and noticing a furry-tooth, sticky enamel feeling as your run your tongue through your mouth? What you're feeling are the effects of excess acidity plus sugar on the teeth. The key to understanding this phenomenon lies in the concept of biofilms.
Biofilms are a relatively new discovery in dentistry and medicine. One expert on microbiology has been quoted as saying: "The biggest mistake we have made in understanding bacteria that cause disease in humans is to consider them in their individual, free-floating state, rather than as a members of a community of bacteria that live within a complex system called a biofilm."
Biofilms coat our teeth and oral cavities (as well as our sinuses, Eustachian tubes, and inner earsıbut more about that later!). They are hiding places for bacteria, and constitute plaque which turns into tarter. Biofilms allow bacteria to propagate, resistant to the natural anti-microbial properties of saliva and to toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Unfortunately, modern diets with high amounts of sugar, frequent sipping of sugar-laden beverages, and lots of snacking are ideal for building up and sustaining dental biofilms. A typical "energy drink" contains 18 teaspoons of sugar or 72 grams of carbohydrates, or 300 calories!
The key to xylitol's benefits is that it helps to break down biofilms. Brushing with xylitol toothpaste (Spry), chewing xylitol gum, or sucking on a xylitol pastille several times a day has an anti-biofilm effect, according to researchers. Without the protective biofilm, bacteria just can't adhere to the enamel and release corrosive substances that cause cavities. Additionally, the bacteria that cause periodontal disease have no place to hide in the gum recesses.
One thing that you notice when you chew xylitol gum is that, despite the sweetness, your teeth begin to feel slick and clean, and areas of built-up gunk seem to disappear. Also, mouth odors seem to be attenuated as the bacteria lose their foothold. Indeed research confirms that xylitol measurably reduces halitosis.
Finnish scientists have pioneered xylitol research, and now the Finnish government provides schoolchildren with xylitol gum and pastilles as "dessert" in school cafeterias. There has been a marked reduction in dental decay.
Sugarless gum, which contains mostly sorbitol, doesn't confer the tooth-protecting benefits of xylitol. Plus, there are knock-off brands that contain a little xylitol, but not enough to help fight cavities.
Also, there's Spry toothpaste, known to some of my listeners via the amusing commercials that run during Health Talk, featuring a drill-happy dentist named "Dr. Sadisco." In the ad, Dr. Sadisco is disappointed because one of his patients has started to use Spry and doesn't have any cavities for him to drill. Spry contains enough xylitol to cut through biofilms.
In addition to preventing cavities, xylitol inhibits the bacteria that promote periodontal disease, now the most common cause of tooth loss.
Since the critical "window" for childhood cavity formation is around 6 months to 4 years, ways had to be devised to deliver xylitol to toddlers. There are drops that can be applied to little kiddies' teeth, and even special pacifiers that can be filled with xylitol solutions. See the XlearUSA.com website for a complete description of the dental products.
Next, we'll discuss the respiratory tract benefits of xylitol--stay tuned!