In our battle against dental decay we are winning. Overall rates of cavities occurring in teeth of children and adults are dropping. But for many people, cavities remain a major problem, in large part because of the consumption of high levels of sugar. These people may need extensive reconstructive dentistry in the form of fillings and dental crowns. But what if there was a kind of sugar you could add to food and drinks that tastes sweet and has fewer calories, but doesn’t feed oral bacteria that produces cavity-causing acids?

Enter xylitol — a natural, sugar-like compound that oral bacteria can’t digest. Xylitol is technically a sugar alcohol, but it can serve as a sugar substitute with fewer calories than sucrose (table sugar). And there is some evidence that it might help protect your teeth from decay.

How Xylitol Could Reduce Tooth Decay

Xylitol has been shown to potentially reduce damage to your teeth caused by oral bacteria. First, bacteria can’t digest it, so any time you consume xylitol instead of sugar, your oral bacteria aren’t being fed and can’t produce damaging acids.

On the other hand, oral bacteria can’t tell the difference between xylitol and sugar until they’ve “eaten” it. Oral bacteria get filled up on xylitol and don’t take in digestible sugars, so they effectively starve to death with a full belly.

Finally, xylitol has been shown to interfere with the ability of bacteria to form plaque and stick to your teeth. So even the bacteria that do survive have a harder time clinging to your teeth and causing damage there.

But Does It Really Work?

All of the above are properties of xylitol that have been proven in the lab, but does this add up to extra cavity prevention? A recent Cochrane Review set out to answer that question. Cochrane Reviews are a type of scientific study undertaken by teams of researchers at the independent Cochrane Library — their goal is to look at all the scientific research that’s been done and sort out the junk science and biased research to determine whether there’s enough evidence to say that something has been proven or not.

Their consensus on xylitol? Not enough evidence. The only thing they could say for sure was that it seems xylitol in toothpaste might help reduce cavities. Our hope is that more research will eventually confirm whether or not xylitol is an effective way to reduce cavities.

In the meantime, we do know other ways to prevent cavities that are proven effective, such as making your regular dental checkups and maintaining good oral hygiene.

If you’re looking for a Wilmington, NC dentist to help protect your teeth against cavities, please call (910) 392-6060 for an appointment at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry today.