How Sugar Free Gum can help Prevent Cavities

How Sugar Free Gum can help Prevent Cavities
Posted on 03/10/2014

Written by:
3/10/2014 12:56 PM

There is significant evidence that chewing sugar free gum after meals can help reduce cavities. I use it as part of my everyday routine while at work. I actually don’t brush my teeth after breakfast or lunch. (It’s true!) I simply chew a piece or two of xylitol gum for about ten seconds and spit it out. It probably helps clean some food off of your teeth, but the increase in saliva flow, I believe, is the more helpful factor. Saliva helps buffer the acid that cavity producing bacteria make. If there was any microscopic demineralization that occurred when you eat (there always is), saliva also helps carry minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, to your enamel to help remineralize them. That is why not everyone’s teeth get cavities simply from eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, oh my! Sugar alcohols, (basically any of those ingredients that you see that end in -ol), are naturally occurring sugar substitutes that cannot be processed effectively by the bacteria that produce cavities. That is why they have sorbitol, xylitol, and other sugar alcohols in gum. It makes them “sugar free”, and they can’t produce cavities. Sugar alcohols are not calorie free, but that is why I like them better than chemicals such as aspartame or saccharin. Evidence suggests that xylitol is a special sugar alcohol, that interferes more with the cavity causing bacteria. Xylitol can be extracted from the tree sap of birch trees. If you get high enough levels of xylitol, whether from gum or other xylitol containing products, it may reduce the onset of cavities even more profoundly. There was a very intriguing study done in Finland with 195 mothers that chewed xylitol containing gum when their infants were ages 0-2. At age 5, the children had 70% less cavities, and nothing else was applied to the children’s teeth compared to the control group! The theory is that the xylitol lessens the “bad bacteria” (S. Mutans) in mom’s mouth, which transmits less “bad bacteria” to the childrens mouth. Given this info, I wouldn’t go crazy about xylitol. (If you start to have too much xylitol, you could potentially have gassy side effects). What I recommend is, if you are chewing gum already, it is probably beneficial to switch to 100% xylitol gum, such as Epic or Spry (available on Amazon), instead of one that contains the other sugar alcohols. You may get a little extra benefit in addition to the increased saliva flow with a higher amount of xylitol. Or, if you are like me and don’t brush your teeth after every meal, just chew a piece of xylitol gum for a few seconds and spit it out. I also need to have fresh breath because my face is so close to my patients. But, who doesn’t like fresh breath? Gums such as Trident contain some xylitol, but not in the amounts anywhere close to what has been studied. Now, my secret is out. I chew xylitol gum after meals when I am away from home instead of brushing my teeth for cavity prevention and fresh breath. Keep smiling! Dr. Lucas References J Dent Educ. 2001 Oct;65(10):1106-9. The effect of non-cariogenic sweeteners on the prevention of dental caries: a review of the evidence. Hayes C. J Dent Res. 2000 Nov;79(11):1885-9. Occurrence of dental decay in children after maternal consumption of xylitol chewing gum, a follow-up from 0 to 5 years of age. Isokangas P, Söderling E, Pienihäkkinen K, Alanen P. Ylivieska Health Care Center, University of Turku, Finland.
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