While preventative care like brushing, flossing, and regular visits to Must Love Kids are the best way to keep kids free of cavities, there may be some additional tools that parents and dental professionals can use to help kids enjoy the best dental health. One of those tools may be Xylitol.
Dr. Gagneja continues to be the pediatric dentist Vancouver WA residents rank as their first choice. One reason patients love him is because Dr. Gagneja is always reading about the latest in pediatric dental news, science, and innovations. Here’s a summary of a recent article he found interesting, released by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry on the use of xylitol to aid in cavity prevention for children.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar. In fact, our own bodies make xylitol; it’s an intermediary within the metabolic cycle taking place in all our cells.
Xylitol has a sweet taste and has been used as an alternative to sugar for decades; it was approved as an additive by the FDA in 1963 and been widely distributed in food products since the 70s. Currently, 35 countries have approved xylitol’s use in health products, including oral health, and some countries– for instance, Finland– have specifically utilized xylitol gum in a campaign to decrease cavity incidence in children.
How does Xylitol work?
As a sweetener, xylitol simply makes whatever you’re eating taste sweet without giving you sugar. Patients with medical conditions– most notably, diabetics– can use xylitol products as a replacement for the occasional sweet they’d like to enjoy.
But in dental health, xylitol has many more possibilities. In study after study, xylitol has shown to have antimicrobial properties, particularly against a common strain of cariogenic bacteria, Streptococcus Mutans. Scientists have found that xylitol disrupts the metabolic processes of S. mutans, ultimately killing the bacterium.
Further studies find that in addition to outright destruction of S. mutans, xylitol may decrease the virulence of the microorganism by lowering its acid production and making it more difficult for the bacteria to stick to teeth, where they do their dirty work.
Xylitol also increases salivary production, which naturally washes the mouth and helps remineralize damaged enamel. Scientists believe that xylitol use in children is especially effective because it appears to work best on teeth that are still erupting.
What does xylitol use look like for my child?
Currently, researchers are finding evidence that xylitol use yields the best results when given within a certain dosage daily. Studies are also suggesting that long-term use of xylitol gum or sweets has the best health effects.
Incorporating xylitol into your child’s oral health regimen will first involve speaking with Dr. Gagneja to learn the best dosage and administration for your child. While xylitol gum is by far the most common use, and can be bought in many grocery stores, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry does not approve gum use for children under 4 due to choking risk. For younger patients, xylitol syrup and toothpaste are available.
Are there side effects?
It’s important to be aware of side effects as well. The two that stand out are xylitol-induced gas and diarrhea. Generally these can be avoided through slow introduction and care not to give large doses. Due to its 4+ decades of use in the general marketplace and numerous studies on efficacy and safety, xylitol is accepted as safe for pediatric use.
Please bring them with you to your child’s next appointment. We look forward to seeing you!