If xylitol sounds familiar from somewhere, you're probably remembering the ingredients list of a pack of sugar-free gum, a tube of toothpaste, or a bottle of mouthwash. Although this sugar substitute is commonly used in such products, it serves a much bigger purpose than just being a sweetener.
Ironically, xylitol is a form of sugar. But it can actually help reduce the number of harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. Proof of this comes from several studies conducted in the past decade, which have shown that xylitol effectively reduces (and even reverses) tooth decay.
In this article, we'll dive into exactly how xylitol works to reduce the number of damaging bacteria, and why it's so vital for your dental health.
What Is Xylitol, And What Does It Do For Teeth?
Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables. It has a low glycemic index, meaning it won't cause your blood sugar levels to spike like traditional sugars would. This makes it the ideal alternative for people looking to reduce their intake of refined sugars.
But its benefits go beyond just being a healthier alternative to sugar. Xylitol is proven to reduce the number of bacteria that cause tooth decay. In this way, it is a "cheat code" for keeping your teeth healthy—you can find it in products like sugar-free gum, which we enjoy regardless of their health benefits.
When xylitol comes into contact with your teeth, it works in two ways:
- Reducing the amount of acid-producing bacteria that cause cavities
- Increasing the pH in your mouth to make it less acidic
Thanks to its natural teeth cleaning properties, regularly consuming xylitol can reduce the risk of plaque build-up and cavities caused by Streptococcus mutans, an oral pathogen that is a common culprit of tooth decay.
The Dental Benefits Of Xylitol
Aside from being a low-calorie option to sugar, xylitol has several health benefits, many of which revolve around its ability to reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth.
1. Prevents Cavities
Xylitol has been shown to reduce the number of Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacteria that causes cavities. This property is most heavily researched in children, but a growing body of research points to xylitol's ability to pass strong oral health benefits from mother to child.
For adults, xylitol can help reduce the risk of cavities by reducing plaque build-up. By reducing the amount of bacteria in and around your teeth, you are less likely to develop decay and cavities as you age.
2. Remineralizes Teeth
Demineralization happens when a low pH in the mouth causes minerals like calcium and phosphorus to be removed from the tooth enamel. When left unchecked, the enamel starts to decay until eventually forming a cavity.
Xylitol provides a protective barrier around the teeth, defending against the effects of foods and drinks that damage your teeth.
On a molecular level, xylitol helps remineralize the teeth by increasing saliva production and creating an environment that helps minerals like calcium and phosphorus adhere to your teeth. It increases the pH balance in your mouth, suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria and allowing healthy minerals to remineralize your teeth.
3. Eliminates Bad Dreath
Bad breath can be the result of several factors, including infection after tooth extraction, underlying medical conditions, and infected tissue underneath a dental implant or crown.
Most of the time, however, the cause of bacteria is straightforward: a buildup of bacteria in the mouth.
Unlike real sugar, xylitol does not feed the bacteria in your mouth. Instead, it helps reduce their population, which in turn reduces bad breath.
When you chew gum with xylitol in it, the sugar alcohol coats your teeth and tongue—the two main sources of bad breath.
4. Fights Gum Disease
Xylitol helps to fight gum disease by controlling bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to periodontal issues if left unchecked. In almost every study, xylitol has been shown to reduce plaque, an accumulation of bacteria and saliva that can cause gum inflammation and eventual tissue damage.
Xylitol also accelerates the healing process of damaged gums by increasing collagen production, which helps to rebuild healthy gum tissue.
5. Strengthens Tooth Enamel
A residual benefit of plaque and bacteria control is that xylitol helps to strengthen tooth enamel. By reducing the amount of harmful acid-producing bacteria, xylitol helps promote remineralization of the tooth enamel, which in turn strengthens it.
Strong tooth enamel is critical for several reasons:
- It helps to protect the underlying dentin, which makes up most of the tooth.
- It maintains the integrity of your teeth, preventing them from becoming weak and brittle.
- It ensures that teeth remain strong and healthy, reducing the risk of decay and cavities.
There are plenty of habits that damage your teeth, and many of them are unavoidable. Realistically, it’s hard to eliminate habits like drinking soda, eating candy, and brushing your teeth too hard entirely.
Xylitol is one compound that can mitigate the effects of some of these habits, helping to keep your teeth healthy and strong.
6. Reduces Inflammation
Thanks to its antimicrobial properties, xylitol helps to reduce the inflammation associated with gum disease. A 2020 study that examined the benefits of xylitol in-depth identified several of these properties, including its ability to reduce inflammation and swelling.
The study indicated that xylitol had the potential to reduce gum inflammation caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens. The same is true for respiratory tract and oral cavity infections, as xylitol helps to reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth and throat.
7. Safe For Diabetics
Diabetes and oral health have a complicated relationship. People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from gum disease and other oral health problems, especially if their blood sugar is poorly controlled.
Most people need to limit their sugar intake to keep their blood sugar levels steady. Unfortunately, many products marketed as “sugar-free” still contain other sweeteners like sucralose, which can cause blood sugar to spike.
Xylitol, on the other hand, does not affect blood sugar levels. In fact, it may even help to stabilize them by reducing the amount of sugar available for bacteria in your mouth. This makes it an ideal choice for diabetics, making it easier to regulate blood sugar levels without compromising dental health.
8. An easy And Healthy Everyday Habit
One of the best things about xylitol is it's present in a product many of us use on a daily basis: chewing gum.
Trident, Orbit, and many other common gum brands contain xylitol, so switching your everyday gum for one of these can make it easier to incorporate this sugar alcohol into your daily routine.
For those affected by the pandemic, chewing gum with xylitol can improve oral health and reduce stress at the same time. Chewing gum releases endorphins, which are hormones that naturally reduce stress and anxiety.
After a randomized controlled trial, researchers found that students who chewed gum for either 7 days or 19 days had lower scores on depression, anxiety, and stress tests compared to those who did not. These same students also experienced greater academic success than their non-gum-chewing counterparts.
Since well-being has a significant impact on oral health, chewing gum while focusing on your daily activities can have residual benefits on your dental hygiene too.
Sugar Vs. Xylitol: What’s The Difference?
The main difference between sugar and xylitol is that sugar feeds bacteria in your mouth, while xylitol does not.
Beyond the basics, xylitol is different from sugar in a few critical ways:
- Fewer calories. Xylitol contains 40% fewer calories than sugar.
- Lower glycemic index. While the glycemic index of xylitol is still high, it’s significantly lower than that of sugar. This means that it won’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels like sugar does.
- Inhibits buildup of dental plaque. Chewing xylitol gum and candies three times daily reduces the buildup of dental plaque. Sugar has the opposite effect on teeth.
- Sugar alcohol, not sugar. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, meaning it isn’t actually sugar. Unlike sugar, it isn’t broken down by bacteria in the mouth.
Replacing sugar with xylitol can help to prevent cavities, reduce inflammation, and improve oral health.
Understanding Xylitol Safety
Knowing when and when not to use xylitol helps you make an informed decision about whether to use it for yourself or your children.
Let's take a look at how xylitol impacts different members of your household:
Xylitol Use For Children
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) approves xylitol as an effective means to reduce tooth decay and cavities. However, due to insufficient research findings, the AAPD does not advise utilizing xylitol toothpaste for young children.
That said, the AAPD is publicly striving to gain further insight into the impotence of xylitol distribution methods, how often it should be used, and what dosage will both reduce cavities and enhance children's oral health.
Xylitol Use For Pregnant Women
So far, no studies have shown that xylitol has any adverse effects during pregnancy. Still, is generally recommended to moderate one’s intake of xylitol due to its high sugar alcohol content.
For example, chewing a few pieces of sugar-free gum containing xylitol each day is safe and has potential benefits for oral health. However, if you’re pregnant, it’s best to talk with your doctor or dentist before making any changes to your diet.
Xylitol Use For Pets
Despite its many benefits, xylitol can be extremely dangerous to dogs. Even small amounts can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, and even death. Therefore, keeping xylitol products away from any animals in the household is essential.
For cats and other common household pets, xylitol is generally considered safe in small amounts. Still, it’s best to consult your vet before feeding them any products containing xylitol.
Is Xylitol Better Than Fluoride?
Although xylitol is a beneficial ingredient in oral health products, it’s not necessarily better than fluoride. Almost all dental health experts and organizations agree that fluoride is the single most effective agent for preventing cavities.
Xylitol can help reduce plaque buildup, but it’s not as powerful as fluoride at remineralizing tooth enamel and stopping the progression of cavities.
That said, using fluoride toothpaste with xylitol added can give you the best of both worlds. The fluoride will help prevent cavities, while the xylitol is an additional deterrent against plaque buildup and tooth decay. Research has historically shown that combining both agents can have more significant benefits than either one alone.
Which Dental Products Contain Xylitol?
In the world of dental care, the two main products that contain xylitol are toothpaste and anticavity mouthwash. Both are available in various brands, which can be found in many drugstores.
According to the California Dental Association (CDA), your daily intake of xylitol should be about five grams for optimal dental health benefits. You can achieve this goal by using xylitol-containing toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum.
Both frequency and duration of xylitol consumption are integral components of its effectiveness. You should chew xylitol gum for approximately five minutes, while mints should be completely dissolved in the mouth instead of being chewed.
As for toothpaste and mouthwash, look for products with 10% xylitol, which is the proportion that research suggests has the greatest benefit on your oral health.
Which Natural Products Contain Xylitol?
Xylitol is also found in some natural products, such as birch sap, corn fiber, and other plant-based foods. Fruits like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries are all sources of xylitol too.
Here is a list of food items that contain xylitol:
- Birch sap
- Corn fiber
- Honeydew melon
The amount of xylitol in these items is minimal compared to dental health products. For example, you would have to eat hundreds of berries or drink multiple glasses of birch sap just to get the recommended five grams per day. That’s why it’s best to focus on using toothpaste and mouthwash with xylitol as your main source.
Xylitol For Teeth Whitening
In addition to dental health, xylitol can also help with the aesthetic elements of your smile. It can be found in some at-home teeth whitening products, and it has been shown to reduce discoloration on the surface of teeth.
Xylitol works by removing plaque and bacteria that cause yellowing of teeth. There’s also evidence that using xylitol-containing products can help to reduce staining from dark beverages like coffee and tea.
If you're looking for a way to remove dark-colored spots on your teeth, teeth whiteners with xylitol can help you reverse the effects of discoloration.
The Good And Bad Of Xylitol For Preventing Cavities
Of course, there are pros and cons to using xylitol as a dental health aid. Here is a summary of the good and bad aspects to consider:
Pros Of Xylitol Use
Benefits of using xylitol include:
- Reduces plaque buildup
- Helps fight cavities
- Works with fluoride for added protection
- May reduce inflammation and soreness in the mouth
- Can help with teeth whitening
- Easy to incorporate into daily habits
Xylitol also has positive effects on the digestive and immune systems, reducing constipation and issues that lead to obesity.
Cons Of Xylitol Use
These are the drawbacks of using xylitol:
- Not as powerful as fluoride alone
- Digests slowly, resulting in digestive problems when used in quantities of 30 grams or more
- Extremely toxic to dogs, which may accidentally eat it
If you leave out a tube of xylitol-containing toothpaste and your dog gets into it, take them to the veterinarian immediately. This should be considered a medical emergency.
Final Words On Xylitol And Oral Health
Whether you're looking for an alternative to pricey in-office teeth whitening procedures or simply a way to improve your dental health, xylitol certainly has its place in the oral care world.
Still, it’s important to remember that xylitol is not a cure-all for your dental health issues. Make sure to brush and floss regularly, use fluoride toothpaste twice per day, and visit your dentist at least twice a year as directed by their office. Also remember to avoid vaping, smoking, and other damaging habits.
When appropriately used, xylitol can help you achieve a healthier and brighter smile.
Want to learn more? These are the questions our customers ask us the most.
How Long Should You Chew Xylitol Gum?
Research indicates that for maximum impact, you should chew xylitol gum for at least five minutes 3 to 5 times each day. Chewing time is crucial because it helps the xylitol to come into contact with the bacteria on your teeth, which reduces plaque and prevents cavities.
Is Xylitol Harmful To Humans?
In its recommended amounts, xylitol is not harmful to humans (and can be incredibly beneficial). Consuming it in excessive quantities (i.e., 30 to 40 grams), however, can cause diarrhea, intestinal gas, and other unpleasant digestive issues. It is also critical to remember that xylitol is extremely toxic (and potentially fatal) to dogs, making proper storage essential for pet owners.
Does Xylitol Gum Fix Cavities?
There is no at-home way to "fix" cavities. Instead, xylitol gum and other products can help to prevent the formation of cavities by reducing plaque and bacteria. If you already have a cavity, you will need to visit your dentist for propert treatment.
What Are The Side Effects Of Xylitol?
Side effects of xylitol include:
- Intestinal gas
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
These issues are usually only prevalent when xylitol is consumed in excessive amounts, which are unlikely when it is used for oral health purposes. Still, being aware of the amount of xylitol you consume could prevent side effects altogether.
Do Dentists Recommend Xylitol Gum?
Yes, many dentists recommend xylitol gum as one of the best ways to protect and strengthen your teeth. Gum helps to reduce plaque buildup, strengthens enamel, and increases saliva production to help rinse away food particles and bacteria. Especially when compared to sugared gum (which dentists strongly advise against) xylitol gum is a great choice for an oral health supplement.
Does Xylitol Really Help Your Teeth?
Unlike many oral health fads that don’t hold much scientific evidence, xylitol is backed by numerous studies that prove its efficacy in reducing bacteria and plaque on teeth. When appropriately used, it can help to protect your teeth from cavities and strengthen enamel for a brighter smile.
Is Xylitol Good Or Bad For Teeth?
Xylitol is good for your teeth in the recommended amounts and number of uses. Going over the recommended limits of 5 grams per day, 3 to 5 times per day, probably won't make much of a difference or harm you, but excessive use can cause digestive problems. You should also consider the other ingredients in xylitol-containing products and how using them can impact your oral health (as well as your overall health).
Does Xylitol Rebuild Enamel?
Xylitol slows down the destruction of enamel and provides some aid in rebuilding it, meaning it also prevents the formation of new cavities. Additionally, xylitol helps to fight bacteria in the mouth and reduces plaque buildup. While it does not completely rebuild your enamel, it can help strengthen and protect it.
How Much Xylitol Does It Take To Reverse Cavities?
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse cavities that are already present in your mouth. If you want to prevent cavities from developing, however, research indicates that using xylitol-containing dental products and chewing gum can help you reduce plaque and strengthen your enamel.