One of the latest trends in oral health care is the addition of plaque-fighting Xylitol to everything from candy, gum and mints to prophy paste and disposable toothbrushes. But what is Xylitol, exactly? How is it used in dentistry? Is it safe? If you or your patients have any of these questions, keep reading to learn more.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sweetener that comes from a number of plant sources including beets, berries, oats, mushrooms and birch trees. It also occurs in our bodies naturally through metabolic action. An average-size adult produces approximately 15g of Xylitol per day.
In its purest form, Xylitol appears as tiny white crystals that look, feel and taste like white sugar, but contain 40% fewer calories. It is used to sweeten a number of ingestible and non-ingestible products, including toothpaste, gum, candy and breath mints.
How is Xylitol Used in Dentistry?
Here’s a little flashback to chemistry class: Xylitol is different from other sweeteners like glucose and fructose because it contains five, rather than six, carbon atoms. In simpler terms, that means yeast and bacteria in the mouth can’t use it as a food source, which is why it’s believed to be effective in helping fight plaque and dental caries. Many innovative dental supplies are now made with Xylitol, including Prophy Paste, Varnish and Fluoride Gel.
Plus, tons of great patient giveaways have Xylitol in them, including Lollipops, Mints, Gum and convenient, pre-pasted Disposable Toothbrushes. Only a very small amount – 6-10g – is needed to produce plaque-fighting action. It’s most effective when used immediately after a meal or snack – like chewing gum or having a mint right after eating. Of course, Xylitol is not a replacement for proper brushing and flossing. It’s just one more tool that can be used to maintain good oral health.
Is Xylitol Safe?
The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and The U.S. Food and Drug Administration all agree that Xylitol is safe to use as a sweetener in foods and other products.
When used in recommended amounts, Xylitol is safe for both children and adults. Too much, however, can cause digestive discomfort and upset, so don’t lets kids go overboard on Xylitol sweetened candies just because they’re sugar-free.
Also, be sure to tell patients that Xylitol can be harmful to dogs, cats and other pets, so any products containing it should be kept well out of their reach.
Now that you know more about Xylitol, is it something you would use and recommend for your dental patients? Tell us why or why not in comments.