Mouth careThe sweet alternative offers many dental benefits

Although dental decay is largely preventable, it is still considered the most common chronic infectious disease of children ages 5-17. It is impossible to completely avoid sugar in our diets, so a more realistic approach would be to limit the amount of sugar we ingest to maintain good oral health and start incorporating Xylitol into our diet.

Humans were not designed to eat large amounts of sugar, although we do it every day. These sugary foods adhere to our teeth, stimulate plaque growth, and promote tooth decay. Sugar depletes the body of important vitamins and minerals, raises blood pressure, triglycerides and the bad cholesterol, and increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in both children and adults.

Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol compound. Sugar alcohols are neither sugar nor alcohol. They are carbohydrates that resemble sugar, but without the harmful effects of sugar. They can occur naturally in plants or can be manufactured from sugar and starches. Xylitol is not an artificial sweetener, but a crystalline carbohydrate which looks very much like sugar. It is a natural dental antidote for sugar. It can be derived from fibrous parts of plants, vegetables, and berry-type fruits such as strawberries and raspberries. These naturally sweetened fruits give all the taste benefits of sugar without its many drawbacks.

Unfortunately, we cannot eat enough of these foods to obtain sufficient amounts of Xylitol to create effective dental benefits. That is why food scientists continue researching to find alternative Xylitol delivery systems that will be appealing to the taste while promoting dental benefits.

Xylitol is a normal part of everyday human metabolism. Our bodies make up to five to 10 grams per day in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this process occurs in the gut, so it does not deliver any oral benefits. Since our bodies produce Xylitol and the enzymes to break it down, there is no chance for any adverse reaction from eating products containing Xylitol if used as directed.

Frequency is really more important than the amount consumed. Children can usually tolerate up to 45 grams per day and adults 150 to 200 grams per day. Since there are always harmful bacteria in our mouths, Xylitol is most effective if consumed throughout the day. If eaten only occasionally, it may not be as effective, regardless of the quantity consumed at that exposure time. Advocates of Xylitol like to say "strive for five" exposures of Xylitol every day. These exposures should be divided into several doses throughout the day in the form of toothpaste, mouthwash, mints, and chewing gum.