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What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a sweetener and is very similar to regular white sugar in appearance and taste. It is often presented as a ‘naturally occurring’ alcohol found in plant material, including many fruits and vegetables. The term “natural” is predictably rife with ambiguity and interpretation. Xylitol has enthusiastic proponents and also has avid detractors. It’s widely used as a sugar substitute and in "sugar-free" chewing gums, mints, and other candies. In addition to its use as a sugar alternative, it also has dental benefits relating to tooth decay.

Dental benefits of xylitol

Cavities are bacterial infections that thrive in acidic conditions and are common when plaque is allowed to accumulate on teeth. Similar to sugar in taste, xylitol differs in a few critical ways. While sugar lowers PH, xylitol raises it. Sugar contributes to tooth demineralization whilst xylitol does the opposite; it actually aids dental remineralization. Sugar acts as a food source for harmful bacteria, yet xylitol has been shown to reduce levels of some of the worst kinds of bacteria including mutans streptococci. As a sweetener, it is low on the glycemic index meaning it is safer for diabetics. Despite these and other benefits, there are trade offs associated with just about every choice we make. Understanding for yourself these trade offs, as accurately as possible and then, making a decision, is at the heart of informed consent.

How safe is xylitol?

The word “natural” means different things to different people. Some concerns about xylitol, (which like sugar is a bleached white granular product), arise from sourcing. Many sources in principle can be used from which to derive xylitol and in times past there have been less problematic sources used like birch trees. Today, much xylitol is sourced from corn cobs left over from ethanol production which of course are GMO; a whole other pandora’s box of polarized perspective. Other concerns involve the effect consumption has on human digestion. It is strange the effect that xylitol has on dogs; dogs can be seriously harmed by ingesting xylitol and although dogs ought to avoid other foods that humans enjoy other than xylitol, still, it does seem a bit puzzling why something so “natural” can pose such a threat to Fido?

Risk verses reward

Similar to the ongoing debate around fluoride, xylitol and fluoride both can be looked at in terms of topical benefit or also through a lens that explores ingestion. It is safe to say that more concerns arise for both when considering ingestion than for predominantly topical benefit. Sure dissolving xylitol mints and candies or using xylitol toothpastes does in fact result in small amounts that are digested, and yes it is ironic to sound eerily like a fluoride apologist, yet dentists who utilize xylitol for their patients are not necessarily advocating xylitol as an outright sugar replacer in all cooking, baking and recipes etc.

Positions can, and should change

It is not entirely uncommon at Evans Dental Health & Wellness for products which were previously deemed to be beneficial to be later discontinued. We have fired products before that fail to meet our standards … why? Sometimes, before criteria is discovered we accept a benefit but then later, upon consideration of new insight might choose to discard a benefit that no longer outweighs the newly discovered drawback. A willingness to constantly be exploring potential benefits and drawbacks, as opposed to becoming entrenched in decades old anecdotal traditions is what Evans Dental is all about. We endeavour to remain astride of all developments related to your dental health.

Follow the money trail

Not surprisingly, the risk to reward picture is portrayed differently by different camps. It would be foolish to not acknowledge the correlation between a camp’s position and the income derived through maintenance of that position. So we see many makers of products (including xylitol) extolling the virtues to the almost total exclusion of concerns. Our incentive is your dental health and overall wellness. We don’t want to present a slanted view or declare an undying eternal devotion for any product or treatment be xylitol or any other that is not supported scientifically. We do assert that in many cases patients are being consciously, even strategically stripped of their right to informed consent, but that’s another topic.

Lesser of two evils

Presently, we offer GMO Free xylitol products from the topical benefit frame of reference. Despite the aforementioned concerns which are valid, the difference that xylitol makes for certain families is significant. Individual variables which can make one treatment plan vastly different than another’s plan exist; no two patients are exactly alike. So whilst there’s no guarantee that Dr. Evan’s and his Associate’s endorsement of the dental benefits of xylitol will forever remain carved in stone, there is a question worth asking: Which material do you trust more and worry about less for fighting tooth decay, Fluoride or Xylitol?

Try as you might, you simply won’t find any sane (not in a “camp”) person arguing that the Fluosilicic acid, a highly toxic waste product from the phosphate fertilizer industry, that is put into public drinking water in a non dose, mass medicated fashion is in any way “natural” … well, you might sadly. But the point is that consumption of said adjunctive therapeutic agents is your choice, you have the right to make individual benefit verses risk evaluations. It is your right to choose.

Preventing decay

Remember, despite the propaganda, tooth decay is not the result of being deficient in fluoride or even xylitol. To the degree that individuals can actually prevent tooth decay, the health of their mouth has far more to do with nutrition, lifestyle and diligent home care than many think or even than is asserted by big camps.

Teeth are alive

Nadine Artemis of Living Libations reminds us that: “because the teeth and the gums and everything about our mouths is living tissue, it’s a good idea to approach the care of our teeth differently than we would say scrubbing countertops. And if we’re buying oral care products from the ‘may be harmful if swallowed' section of the drugstore, we are going to be brushing chemicals into our bloodstream…”

Here are a couple informative articles about the dental benefits of xylitol.

Will Revak from OraWellness - http://www.orawellness.com/blog/is-xylitol-safe-to...

Dr. Chris Kammer - http://www.dentaltown.com/dentaltown/article.aspx?...