Have you been made aware of the many wonders of xylitol? It’s a naturally occurring five-carbon alcohol sugar; we produce between 3-5 grams of it daily. However, it can be harvested from food products such as corn cobs! So what’s the big deal? As far as dental health, and future medical health, is concerned, it’s the great neutralizer.

As a dental hygienist in the state of Texas, I am required to take twelve hours of continuing education a year to uphold my license. I was privileged enough to take a course on xylitol a few years ago. It’s the new “dental therapeutic.” I’ll share a little of what I learned.

In basic health, even in elementary school, we’re taught when bacteria in your mouth come in contact with sugar, acid is created. That acid, in turn, can create decay, thus the two pushes in dentistry, especially for pediatrics: 1) Limit the amount of sugary snacks and drinks, and 2) brush and floss at least twice daily to limit the amount of bacteria present. True?

We also run the gambit of reminding patients that acid intake, such as lemons, is discouraged because of enamel erosion, the wearing down of enamel due to chemical means. Why? Whether it is from direct acid intake or the changing of sugars into acid, the pH of the mouth is dropped to a level where enamel is harmed. What if we could neutralize acid production by making the mouth alkaline?

Ta-da! Xylitol is the ONLY sweetening alcohol sugar that accomplishes this. The other alcohol sugars that you’ve heard of, such as malitol, mannitol, and sorbitol, have six carbons. The bacteria in the mouth are actually attracted to these sugars, but they die in the wake of an alkaline environment where life is no longer possible for them. Xylitol alkalinizes the mouth within a couple of minutes because of its five-carbon chemical structure.

At www.xlear.com, under resources, there are numerous articles and scientific studies published that validate and further explain this process. Also there you’ll find studies that suggest that five “exposures” to xylitol daily not only dramatically reduces the incidence of decay, but they also discuss the possibility of the oral flora being permanently changed over a period of time (see the Belize school children studies over 40 months, followed by years of follow up). And no, I am not sponsored or affiliated in any way with this company. I sometimes wish I was!

Spry is Xlear’s brand of xylitol dental therapeutics. They use only xylitol to sweeten their mints, gum, candies, toothpaste, mouthrinse, etc. It is important to note that when xylitol is mixed with one of the aforementioned six-carbon sugars that its effectiveness is reduced.

Lastly, xylitol can cause gastrointestinal distress if one’s not “titrated” their intake slowly. For instance, you can bake with xylitol, substituting it 1:1 for sugar. However, if you eat several cookies, you might find yourself attached to the commode. During Xlear’s course, they suggest an “easing in” to sugar substitution. From personal experience, the five mints I have a day cause me no irritation whatsoever, nor have they with my husband or boys.

With kids today, especially those in oral appliances and orthodontics, the neutralizing of the mouth’s pH is well worth every effort one can make. I have often seen those beautiful, straight teeth be riddled with decay due to poor oral hygiene. Is it worth the cost? No. This is a wonderful alternative to sweeteners and it’s naturally-occurring, not artificial (that’s entirely another discussion; just say no!). The geriatric population can also benefit from this greatly as their “sweet” taste buds are the last to hang on. They often crave sweetness in their aging years, even if they’ve never been a “sweet eater.”

Look into xylitol as an alternative to help you achieve wellness!