By the time we’re adults, most of us have experienced some sort of undesirable oral condition, whether that be cavities, gingivitis, or worse ailments such as tooth decay. This is because most of us spend a lot of time-consuming processed foods and sugary beverages that ultimately cause acid and plaque bacteria to take over our mouths.
Most dentists and dental hygienists have relied on fluoride solutions to prevent plaque build-up and oral acidity, which in turn reduces the risk of oral health issues. However, there are other remedies out there that are just as effective, if not more, at reducing plaque and preventing it from growing back. This is where xylitol comes in.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is derived from the fibrous part of plants, most commonly fibers from corn cobs and stalks, and acts as a natural, low-calorie sweetener. Although it is fairly new to U.S. markets, research for its benefits in oral health care began in the 1960s. Scientists found that unlike other types of sugar, xylitol does not break down but instead digests like a fiber, keeping it from becoming acidic once it interacts with saliva. This may be due, in part, to its low glycemic index of 7, which also happens to make it safe for diabetic patients to consume.
Many dental clinics provide xylitol in the form of mints or gum for patients. However, it can be mixed with various substances. There are spray appliances and gels available, and as a sweetener, it can be used as a sugar substitute (giving you double the benefits).
How does xylitol benefit oral health?
Because xylitol doesn’t break down the same way sugar does, it can help keep your mouth at a neutral pH level. This is extremely important for your oral health because most teeth and gum issues begin with pH levels that are too low, or acidic, to keep healthy bacteria thriving and harmful bacteria from cultivating.
Researchers have also found that xylitol protects from tooth decay because it prevents plaque bacteria from sticking to the teeth. When plaque doesn’t have a chance to grow, the possibility of developing more serious conditions, like gingivitis and cavities, is greatly reduced.
Furthermore, since xylitol is processed as an alkaline substance in the body, it can prevent saliva from becoming too acidic. When saliva is more alkaline, meaning it has a pH higher than 7, it can release its natural supply of phosphate and calcium ions. These ions then form themselves around weak parts of the enamel, ensuring your teeth get proper protection from decay.
Some researchers have voiced concerns with xylitol when added to food as a sugar substitute, particularly in dogs. While the quantity and quality of any chemical we ingest are important, that should not be confused with using it as a topical mouthwash. Many oral care products have FDA approval but are not to be swallowed in large quantities. Some new kinds of toothpaste are based solely on the basis of xylitol.
Alka-white has a minimal amount of xylitol used as a binder in the effervescent process of the tablet’s dissolving. It is perfectly safe to use as a topical mouth cleaner.