Today we see many different types of alternative sugar sweeteners. Most of these sweeteners have been around a long time, yet still have unclear effects on the body. One of them, Xylitol, stands above the rest in its benefits.
Unlike many sweeteners, Xylitol is a natural product, extracted from birch trees. It has many beneficial effects – especially on dental health.
From a dental perspective, cavities are produced when the pH of the mouth is lowered by acid produced by bacteria after a meal that includes sugars or carbohydrates. Sugar-free gums and mints can be helpful in fighting this acid because they stimulate the body to produce more saliva which is vital in neutralizing the acids that cause tooth damage. By increasing saliva production, the amount of time our teeth are susceptible to damage from these acids is decreased.
However, not all sugar-free products are equal. As a dentist, I recommend that you specifically look for products containing Xylitol from birch. It is important to note that Xylitol can also be made from corn, but birch is the healthier choice.
On top of the benefits of producing saliva, the molecules in Xylitol are actually shown to protect against tooth decay better than other sugar substitutes. They can also help reduce staining and plaque formation on the teeth, leading to happy and healthier gums.
So where can Xylitol products be found? Luckily the answer is in many places. When buying gums, mints, or candy, first check to see if the product is labeled “sugar-free.” Next look at the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in the order of the prevalence in the product, and Xylitol should be the first ingredient. Some of my personal favorites are Ice Chips candy and Spry gum which can be found at Whole Foods among other places. Although only available online, DrJohns.com is a great place to look as well. This company was started by a dentist who saw the many benefits of Xylitol on dental health but a lack of options. They have a huge selection of everything from candies to chocolates and caramels.
By reducing the amount of regular sugar in our diet and replacing it with Xylitol, we can satisfy that sweet tooth while helping to keep our teeth clean and healthy. And healthy teeth lead to less – and easier – trips to the dentist, which all can agree is a very good thing.
Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.