Why chewing gum is good for your teeth
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a molecule in the polyol family, also known as sugar alcohols. It has the same sweetening effect as sucrose or granulated sugar, but not as many calories. It’s all down to how Xylitol is absorbed by the body. As with all polyols, only parts of the substance get through the body’s digestive barriers. As a result, Xylitol provides the body with at least 40% fewer calories (2.4 kcal/g) than sucrose (4 kcal/g).
Protection against tooth decay
Xylitol is highly effective at protecting against cavities. It stops the bacteria normally present in the mouth from fermenting, keeping the natural pH regular and stopping it from becoming acidic. Acidity of around pH 5 is chiefly responsible for wearing down tooth enamel and causing tooth decay. The optimum dose of Xylitol is between 5g and 10g per day, split into two to five servings.
Good for tooth enamel
Another key benefit of Xylitol is that it also encourages the remineralisation of tooth enamel. It has specific characteristics (such as a combination of calcium and phosphate ions, for example) that other polyols don’t have. Xylitol not only reduces wear, but also remineralises cavities, preventing existing decay from getting worse. You have to chew gum containing Xylitol for at least five minutes to get real benefits for your teeth.
Xylitol could also prevent the spread of bacteria. Bacteria absorb the sweetener but can’t break it down, so Xylitol accumulates, preventing the bacteria from metabolising other sugars and spreading in your mouth. On top of this, Xylitol could also impede microbes’ ability to attach themselves to your teeth. It’s been clinically proven that consuming Xylitol reduces the number of streptococci in your saliva (even though other studies have contested these results). The only problem is that after a few months of consuming Xylitol, some bacteria will develop resistance to it. However, these bacteria are still a lot less virulent.
The best way to get Xylitol into your diet
Xylitol is found in other products too. So what’s so great about chewing sugarfree gum? The answer is simply that the effects against tooth decay are better. Chewing increases the saliva in your mouth, helping eliminate sugar from the surface of your teeth 50% faster. On top of this, saliva has a neutralising effect, so your mouth doesn’t get too acidic.
While it’s most effective in gum, The French Union for Oral-Dental Health (UFSBD) advises also giving children squash and toothpaste containing Xylitol.
Don't get too much
Even though Xylitol seems to have many virtues, you shouldn’t eat too much of it. Consuming Xylitol in excess can lead to undesirable effects such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and bloating. As a result, it’s not recommended to have more than 70g per day for adults and 35g per day for children.
Tips for preventing tooth decay
If you’re not a fan of chewing gum, there are a other things you can do to prevent tooth decay:
- Only eat sugar at mealtimes and don’t snack in between.
- Have five small meals a day. Any more and your saliva’s natural defences won’t be as effective.
- Try to eat certain combinations of food: fats will reduce the damaging effect of foods that are bad for your teeth, for example.
- Don’t take medication containing sugar for long periods of time.
- Drink soft drinks through a straw rather than straight from the glass (the effects on your mouth’s pH will be reduced).
- Replace sugar with sweeteners as often as possible.