The Promise of Xylitol

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You may have already seen it: gum with Xylitol while you’re waiting to check out at your local health food store. Did you wonder what “Xylitol” is, or why this chewing gum might be recommended by dental professionals— including your favorite Clackamas and Happy Valley Oregon dentist?

What it is

Xylitol is a 5-carbon sugar found in small amounts in the fibers of fruits, vegetables, corn husks, birch wood, as well as in species of fungi. For the purposes of meeting consumer demand, manufacturers create xylitol primarily from corn, although some is made from birch as well.

Xylitol works as a sweetener, and in addition to its application in dental medicine (more on this in a moment), has also been used in foods for diabetic patients and those wishing to regulate blood sugar because it does not raise insulin levels when consumed.

Why dentists are excited about Xylitol

Xylitol is unique because it actively works against the formation of cavities by inhibiting cavity causing bacteria, preventing plaque and cavity formation, and by enhancing remineralization of enamel. It has a multi-fold approach to dental health:

Inhibiting bacteria

The reason why we mention that Xylitol is a “5-carbon” sugar is that its shape actually matters. Bacteria can “eat” this type of sugar, and they will, but they can’t break it down or metabolize it (interestingly, this is why Xylitol cannot be used to sweeten breads: the yeast also cannot metabolize Xylitol, and the bread will not rise).

Unfortunately for the bacteria, they eat up the Xylitol rather than food they actually can digest and metabolize into enamel-harming acid– saving your enamel.

Preventing plaque and cavity formation

Xylitol also stimulates salivary action in the mouth, which increases the buffering abilities of your mouth’s micro-environment and better allows it to navigate any potential acidic activity.

In addition, saliva works to wash away bacteria and additional sugars, like those left over from a recent meal. This is why dentists encourage patients to chew an ADA approved gum following a meal.


Sometimes, our enamel has already been harmed by bacterial activity and a potential cavity could be forming. Our body is able to rebuild enamel, but it can take a while– that’s where Xylitol comes in. Studies show that Xylitol works as a potential calcium ion carrier able to permeate deep layers of enamel and enhance the remineralization process. Studies also showed that enamel remineralized with Xylitol present was harder than enamel without Xylitol.

How does one get one’s hands on Xylitol?

At the moment, Xylitol’s most convenient form is either gum or mints. Dr. Suess recommends chewing a piece of Xylitol gum after each meal, in addition to your standard brushing and flossing.

Use of Xylitol is not a replacement for preventive dental care, but it could make a big difference in your smile!

Want to learn more?

Please bring your questions to your next appointment at Clackamas Smiles!

Photo Credit: mihhailov via Compfight cc