What is Xylitol?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tiffany A. Grant
  • 22nd Dental Clinic preventative dentistry NCO in charge
When consumers pick up a pack of gum and the package has the words "contains Xylitol" on it, many may be curious about what Xylitol is and why it's in gum.

Well, Xylitol is classified broadly as a carbohydrate and more narrowly as a sugar alcohol. In the dental field, Xylitol is known as the chief sweetener in sugar-free chewing gums, candies and dental preventive products that are vastly endorsed by respected leaders and experts.

This sugar substitute holds high acclaim in the dentistry community because many years of research and studies have revealed that Xylitol can be a highly effective tool in cavity prevention.

Xylitol has received official endorsements from six national dental associations, and many journals cite the profound benefits because of its important role in preventing cavity formation.

Normally, when sugars and carbohydrates are broken down by bacteria in your mouth, they create acids. This acidic environment can cause the pH level in the saliva to fall below 5.5, losing its buffering ability and allowing acid to begin demineralizing tooth enamel. Xylitol counterbalances this unhealthy reaction.

When in gum or candy, Xylitol increases saliva production, which is an additional defense against acids in plaque.

Here's how: Xylitol decreases the acid levels in the mouth, helping to restore neutral pH balance. On top of that, the additional saliva produced by chewing this gum creates a buffering component which also helps restore a neutral pH balance. In several studies, scientists have found that people who regularly chew gum that contains Xylitol have a lower occurrence of tooth decay than people who do not.

These are not the only advantages of Xylitol, and studies show few contradictions or adverse reactions in humans. Products available such as gum, toothpastes and mouth rinses make Xylitol easily attainable and affordable, resulting in greater compliance and therefore, greater effectiveness. Xylitol is also diabetic friendly.

The next time you're in the grocer's checkout aisle and see a pack of gum with the word "Xylitol" on it, remember this product's remarkable qualities.