By Vishant Nath DMD
The article last month touched on the use of xylitol (present in sugar-free gums) to combat bad breath. This article will discuss how xylitol can help to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities.
Bacteria in the mouth cause tooth decay. The primary bacterium that causes tooth decay is Streptococcus mutans. The bacteria live off of the food that we eat. The bacteria in the mouth break down the food particles and produce acid. This is called an “acid attack”. The acid attack weakens the tooth structure, allowing for the formation of cavities. After eating, this acidic environment remains in the mouth for as long as 30 minutes, before being neutralized slowly over time. So this creates a prolonged environment that is unfriendly to your teeth. Slowly but surely, the enamel is broken down and cavities can begin to form. Picture this happening several times over a day, as we eat and you can see how troubling this can be.
Now let’s introduce xylitol into the system by chewing xylitol-containing gum after a meal or snack.
Bacteria cannot break down xylitol. There are a couple of reasons why this helps the teeth. When xylitol is introduced into the mouth, less acid is produced, so the teeth are protected from cavities. Also, since the bacteria cannot break down xylitol, they are not fed. The levels of bacteria can fall by as much as 90%. Obviously, having less cavity-causing bacteria present in your mouth is a great benefit!
The sweetness of xylitol-containing gum stimulates salivary glands. Saliva protects the mouth and teeth, so having more of it is another benefit for your teeth. Also the saliva that is stimulated by chewing xylitol-containing gum actually works to neutralize the acidity of the mouth more quickly than normal.
All of these factors lend credibility to the use of xylitol to help strengthen teeth and prevent cavity formation. Of course, the best way to prevent cavities would be to brush away any food particles each time that we eat. But an acceptable alternative throughout the day would be the use of xylitol-containing gum. This, in addition to establishing good oral hygiene habits (brushing twice daily and flossing before bedtime) can go a long way towards creating happy, healthy smiles!