Getting the most out of your gum.

Preventing Decay with Xylitol

In the days before water fluoridation, decay was a huge and terrible problem. Fluoride has helped to significantly reduce decay, and now it is uncommon to find rampant decay in people under the age of 40.

Those of us who are over the age of 40 are still susceptible to decay, especially if we are taking medications that cause dry mouth. When we have dry mouth, it changes the balance in the battle between our immune system and the bacteria that cause decay. If we use candy like peppermints or lemon drops to help moisten our mouth, it is even worse. Sugarless gum is a good alternative, because it does not “feed” the bacteria that cause decay. Gum that contains Xylitol is even better, because research has found that Xylitol actually reduces the bacteria that cause decay.

Xylitol is a natural sugar that is found in Birch trees. It is very unique because we humans can taste it and digest it, but bacteria cannot digest it. The really cool thing is that the bacteria do not know that they cannot digest it, so they wear themselves out going through all of the effort trying to eat it. None of the other sweeteners have this effect.

Xylitol is rather expensive to produce, so manufacturers like to substitute other sweeteners like Sorbitol to reduce their cost. It takes at least 500mg of Xylitol to have any effect, so if Xylitol is not listed first among the ingredients, there is probably not enough. If Sorbitol is listed first, then it won’t work.

Until recently it was difficult to find a reasonably priced source of Xylitol chewing gum, but now Hershey’s has come out with a line of chewing gum that is called “Ice Cubes” that contains 1000mg of Xylitol in each piece. It can be found at most candy stands, and it is not expensive.

Researchers suggest chewing one piece for 5 minutes three times a day. This will help to stimulate the natural moisture in your mouth and reduce the harmful bacteria that cause cavities.