Benefits Of Sugar-Free Chewing Gum In General -- And Of Xylitol In Particular

You know it's better for your dental health to chew sugar-free gum instead of the versions that contain sugar. It may come as a surprise, however, to discover that chewing sugar-free gum can actually help prevent tooth decay, and that one particular substance -- xylitol -- has some especially beneficial effects. The next time you see your dentist for a routine checkup and professional teeth cleaning, ask about xylitol and how it can improve dental health.

About Xylitol

Xylitol is considered a natural sweetener. It is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables, although there is some processing involved with the extraction and production of xylitol. In contrast, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose are synthetic chemicals that don't exist in nature.

Advantages of Xylitol for Dental Health

Your dentist encourages you to brush and floss regularly and to use a fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities. Chewing gum that contains xylitol also can help. 

Certain types of bacteria in the mouth produce acid in response to sugars that you eat and drink. Those sugars include starches and other carbohydrates. Xylitol inhibits this production of acid, which is beneficial since the acid attacks tooth enamel. 

 Xylitol also disrupts the stickiness of these acid-producing bacteria, which stops the microorganisms from adhering to your teeth. 

General Advantage of Sugar-Free Gum

Although not specific to xylitol, chewing any type of gum increases saliva production. That's good for your teeth, since saliva has protective effects against acid that attacks tooth enamel. It also brings calcium and phosphate to your mouth; these minerals strengthen your teeth. You can consider saliva your own natural defense against tooth decay. 

Even if you don't select gum with the ingredient xylitol, you'll want to avoid the sugary brands, since more sugar in your mouth worsens the risk of tooth decay.

Expert Opinion

As of 2015, the American Dental Association has approved seven brands of sugar-free chewing gum, some of which contain xylitol. You can use any of these and be assured that the ADA responds with a smile. Just look for the seal of approval on the package.

A Complete Dental Health Care Routine

Chewing gum containing xylitol is helpful when you can't brush your teeth after eating or drinking carbohydrate-laden foods and beverages. It should never be a substitute for proper oral health care, which includes brushing two or three times each day and flossing once per day. 

When you next see your dentist, find out more about xylitol and additional ways you can prevent tooth decay throughout the day when you can't brush or floss after meals and snacks.