Recently, the natural sweetener xylitol, has been getting a great deal of attention from the dental world and the nutrition and health food worlds as well. Xylitol, is a natural sweetener found in fibers of many fruits and vegetables and can also be found in oats, mushrooms and corn husks. Xylitol was discovered by German and French chemists in the late 19th century and has been used in Europe primarily as a sugar alternative for diabetics.

In the early 1970’s,researchers in Finland discovered the dental benefits of xylitol, since that time many more studies have been conducted.  These studies have linked xylitol to a reduction in the bacteria that can lead to cavity formation.   The way xylitol works is quite interesting.  The bacteria in your mouth mistake xylitol for their favorite food, fructose. The bacteria transport xylitol through their cellular walls to metabolize it as a food.  Xylitol is a five carbon sugar alcohol, which during this process of transportation is changed into xylitol phosphate. The bacteria are not able use this substance as a food. Over time, the xylitol phosphate accumulates inside the bacteria, creating a toxic effect.  The bacteria become starved, and may eventually die.  This results in a reduction of the number of cavity causing bacteria in your mouth.  However, the long-term presence of xylitol in the oral cavity can lead to an increase number of xylitol-resistant bacteria. This is actually a good thing since these bacteria are not as strong as their cousins and are not as capable of producing tooth decay. They also lack the ability to produce the necessary acid to adhere to your teeth. This means there will be less plaque on your teeth. 

There is some evidence that suggests the use of xylitol  can aid in the repair of damaged tooth structure by creating bacterial changes; creating an ideal environment for remineralization to occur.  Remineralization is the natural process of restoring minerals to a tooth that have been damaged by the acidic activity of bacteria.  Think of it as replacing the missing rungs in an old rickety ladder, making it strong and stable again.   While nothing can replace brushing and flossing xylitol use can be another means of combating tooth decay.

Research suggests you need to consume between four and twelve grams of xylitol a day to experience the positive effects.  Xylitol can be purchased in many different forms, such as chewing gum, various candies, sweetener packets for your coffee or tea, or in bags just like sugar. It is not difficult to find, most health food stores carry it, as well as a number of internet sites.  It can be a little pricey, but if you have high rates of tooth decay it can help with the problem.