Here's great news for gum chewers! Researchers at the University of Minnesota
School of Dentistry in Minneapolis discovered that a new gum sweetened
with xylitol (pronounced zy-li-tall) actually reduces the formation of
cavity-causing bacteria on your teeth.
In the study, researchers measured the levels of the bacteria streptococcus
mutans in the mouths of 151 cavity-prone individuals. Those who chewed
the xylitol-sweetened gum for at least five minutes after eating had significantly
lower levels of these destructive bacteria on their teeth than did those
who chewed other gum, or none at all.
"While all gum discourages cavities by stimulating saliva flow and
neutralizing acids in the mouth, gum sweetened with xylitol is the only kind
that actively discourages the growth of mutans streptococci, bacteria that
promote cavities. In contrast, gums sweetened with sugar or sorbitol can feed
the growth," said lead study author Gary Hildebrandt, D.D.S., associate clinical
professor of dentistry at the University of Minnesota.
Another bonus of chewing xylitol-sweetened gum is that the bacteria are
working so hard to eliminate the xylitol they have no energy left to reproduce.
And, according to the study results, xylitol has this repressive effect
for as long as three months.
More about xylitol
Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Discovered in 1981 by
German chemist Emil Fischer, it's been used as a sweetening agent in food since
the 1960s. Commercially, xylitol is extracted from birch trees and other
hardwoods, then sold in powdered form as an alternative sweetener.
It has a fresh sweet taste that's similar to other non-sugar sweeteners, and
it has none of the chemical aftertaste that some non-sugar sweeteners have.
Xylitol contains one-third of the calories of regular sugar. It's currently used
in mints, toothpastes, mouthwashes, cough syrups and throat lozenges. And
xylitol is absorbed slowly, so when used by diabetics, the rise in blood
glucose—and the resultant insulin response—is greatly reduced.
Where to get it
Xylitol-sweetened gum is widely available in Canada. You can order it and
other xylitol products online.
But don't throw away your toothbrush and floss!
The researchers warned that xylitol-sweetened gum is not a substitute for
brushing, flossing, sealants, or other cavity-control strategies. It's also not
a license to eat starchy and sugary foods with abandon! It's just another tool
to use in the fight against plaque and tooth decay.