We all know the age-old admonition from many dentists about not eating candy, other sweets, or chewing gum in order to reduce the risk of getting cavities. In general, this is good advice. Sugar and carbohydrate-containing foods can promote cavities by providing "fuel" to bacteria that commonly inhabit our mouths. Chewing gum is often considered particularly harmful because many brands contain sugar, and can stick to dental fillings, caps or dental crowns, and other dental work, loosening them. This is not true of all brands, however. In fact, nonstick, sugarless chewing gum is actually beneficial to the teeth because it promotes the production of saliva that helps to prevent both cavities and gum disease. New research has also revealed that xylitol-containing chewing gum may provide an additional benefit when fighting cavities.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly referred to as birch sugar because it can be produced from birch trees. Some natural sources of xylitol include plums, strawberries, raspberries, and rowanberries. Xylitol is similar in sweetness to table sugar, and is used as a sugar substitute for dietary and medical purposes.
For most of us, brushing teeth three times a day (after meals and before bedtime) with a fluoridated toothpaste, flossing at least once a day, and getting to the dentist twice a year is enough to prevent those troublesome cavities. There are some people, however, who are "cavity-prone" and may need more aggressive preventative measures. These measures may include the use of a fluoridated mouth rinse after brushing, high strength fluoride gels, and a potent, antiseptic mouth rinse that contains chlorhexidine (CHX -- available by prescription only). Xylitol-containing chewing gum has been shown to prevent the growth of the bacteria Streptococcus Mutans (SM) when used in conjunction with CHX antiseptic mouth rinses. SM is one of the primary bacteria responsible for dental cavities.
Research has shown that chewing xylitol-containing gum after a two-week course of using a CHX mouth rinse substantially reduced the number of SM bacteria for three months. This reduction of SM bacteria will ultimately mean fewer cavities. As an interesting aside, a recent medical study found that xylitol-containing chewing gum also reduces the growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which could lower the incidence of inner ear infections. So the next time your child asks for a piece of candy, reach for a stick of xylitol-sweetened gum instead -- your child and dentist will thank you for it!
Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.