Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, and is most commonly found as a sweetener in various candies and chewing gums. When you eat sugar, it creates an acidic condition in the mouth which tends to damage tooth enamel, leaving it vulnerable to damage from bacteria. Normally, saliva has an alkaline component that can help neutralize the acidity, but if a surplus of sugar has been eaten, then bacterial overgrowth can occur. Since Xylitol is not a sugar and thus cannot create an acidic environment in the mouth, it optimizes the acid/alkaline balance in the mouth.
Enhanced Mineral Absorption
Since Xylitol decreases acidity levels, it enhances mineral absorption, making tooth enamel stronger.
Xylitol has also been shown to inhibit the growth of streptococcus pneumonia and haemophilus influenzea, mainly through altering the microbes’ adherence to cells and their resulting virulence. It also inhibits streptococcus mutans, a primary culprit in the development of dental caries and increasing acidity in the mouth. This effect is primarily due to the fact that S. mutans cannot use xylitol for energy like typical sugars. In addition, the very act of chewing gum with xylitol has been reported to increase salivary flow, increase oral pH and assist in wax removal/cleaning of the middle ear.
Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)
Xylitol encourages saliva flow. This is especially significant for those suffering from a condition called xerostomia, or dry mouth, which can occur due to a variety of reasons. One major use of xylitol is in patients with Sjogren's syndrome, in which the salivary glands are destroyed with significant oral pathology.
Xylitol is notoriously hard to convert to fat, and has a minuscule effect on insulin levels in the body; this makes it very appealing to diabetics, bodybuilders or anyone trying to diet away the pounds. It also has a lower caloric and carbohydrate content, which especially makes it appealing to those on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet.
Xylitol has been approved by the FDA and used in foods since the 1960s, and has no known toxic effects in humans. Occasionally, with excessive intake, stomach discomfort and diarrhea can result.
- YourDentistry.com: Xylitol
- Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America; “Optimizing Dry Mouth Treatment for Individuals with Sjögren's Syndrome;” Wu A.; Volume 34, Issue 4, Nov. 2008