I Brush My Teeth with Sugar (Hello Xylitol)

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When an article with that title showed up in one of my dental magazines I was thinking the same as you are now: What’s the gimmick? The article was written by a dentist and the title is accurate! Twice a day, the author-dentist puts a quarter teaspoon measure of granulated sugar in his mouth, swishes it around for a minute or two, and then brushes his teeth before he spits it out. The sugar he uses is xylitol, and he is doing this to rid his mouth of the acid-producing bacteria responsible for tooth decay. Are you ready for the rest of the story?

 Xylitol is a natural sweetener that occurs in many fruits and vegetables and is produced in the body as well. Unlike sucrose, or table sugar, xylitol is non-nutritive. It has been used by diabetics for decades. When bacteria in our mouth eat xylitol, the bacteria die, stop sticking to other bacteria, and slide off the teeth. Studies have shown that five exposures of xylitol each day will reduce plaque levels up to 50 percent, which is the same effect achieved by daily brushing and flossing.

 In Finland, xylitol is regularly distributed to students, and 80 percent of high school graduates have not had cavities. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 80 percent of U.S. kids have experienced tooth decay by age 17. The sad truth is, bad habits are hard to break and good habits are sometimes difficult to pick up! Some of the research on xylitol’s beneficial dental characteristics was published as far back as the 1970’s.

 We feel regular use of xylitol as a cavity-reducing modality deserves serious consideration. We will continually update this topic as our understanding improves. In the meantime we will be happy to send anyone interested a copy of the article, “I Brush My Teeth with Sugar”.