The benefits of xylitol for your dental patients are numerous
A very simple product out there - xylitol - can help your patients with a myriad of oral issues. Familiarize yourself with it and you can knowledgeably recommend it to patients.
Do you see the same patient on the schedule for yet another filling? Would you like to help patients protect the dental work you produce? What if you could extend the benefits of your recommendations between visits? Have you considered recommending xylitol?
Offering xylitol as an alternative for your patients can help them manage recurring cavities easily, affordably, and with minimal disruption to their routine. Patients that have dry mouth, are aging, or have undergone oncology treatment will most likely have an acidic pH. Also, mouth breathers, those who depend on others for their care, or those with acid reflux will likely have an altered pH as well. These patients, along with those that consume a lot of acidic foods and drinks, such as energy drinks, sports drinks, and sodas, are especially vulnerable to demineralization. When pH is low, essential minerals are leeched out of enamel, which results in white spot lesions, softened enamel, and decay. Research suggests that five minutes of exposure to a 100% xylitol-sweetened product will neutralize acids and bring the pH back to a normal level more quickly than if left on its own.(1)
Reduced salivary flow is another concern of many patients. If salivary flow is decreased, the key minerals of calcium and phosphate are not effectively deposited into enamel. These minerals are important in keeping tooth enamel healthy. Patients with less-than-adequate amounts of saliva are uncomfortable and at an increased risk for decay. Xylitol stimulates salivary flow, allowing these minerals to be deposited to keep enamel strong and relieve the discomfort of a dry mouth.(2)
Many patients dislike fluoride. Xylitol can help protect teeth from demineralization in patients who are low risk or prefer not to use fluoride. Individuals that fall into a high-risk category can benefit from additional fluoride treatments. Preceding a fluoride application with a xylitol exposure actually compliments fluoride uptake by neutralizing the acidic environment of the mouth, allowing for maximum effectiveness. Xylitol also minimizes the stickiness of plaque, allowing it to slide off the tooth for those that have less than perfect brushing habits.(3)The bacteria in plaque can’t metabolize xylitol as a food, and the bacteria exhaust themselves trying to communicate in the biofilm community and reproduce. Because bacteria are not metabolizing the xylitol, they will die and break away from the biofilm and not stick to the teeth.
Xylitol is in many fruits and vegetables. The problem is that people don’t consume enough of these in their normal diet to get the desired dental benefits. Too much xylitol, on the other hand, if someone is not accustomed to it, can cause a person to experience unpleasant gastric side effects. The key is moderation. Too much of anything is not good for anyone! In cases of discomfort, just add xylitol more slowly into one’s daily routine and the body will adapt.
Not everything that’s good for people is good for our furry friends. The ASPCA lists many food items we should not be giving our dogs, and xylitol is on the list.
With an increasing number of patients looking for natural alternatives for their health, xylitol can be an answer for them. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute, not an artificial sweetener. It is safe and available in ready-to-consume forms for both children and adults. It is a great sugar substitute for patients with diabetes, and safe for use in pregnancy and for nursing mothers. In fact, anyone who has teeth, eats, and has bacteria in their mouth can benefit!
More ingredient lists are including xylitol due to more efficient and economical production. But beware – to be effective against bacteria, reduce decay, and neutralize the pH, xylitol should be the first ingredient and the only sweetener. If a product contains other sweeteners (maltitol, sorbitol, or aspartame), those sweeteners will serve as a food source for bacteria and counteract the effects of xylitol. Just because a product “contains” xylitol does not mean it will achieve the desired results in patients. For xylitol to effectively reduce decay, research shows that the frequency of exposure is more important than quantity in a xylitol protocol. Using a 100% xylitol sweetened product five or more times a day (Strive for Five) will reduce plaque buildup and decay by substantial amounts.(4)
If you want to offer yet another innovative, safe, and proven service to your patients, offer xylitol and tell them to Strive for Five!
Kris Potts, RDH, BS, has beena clinical dental hygienist for 35 years, an active member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, an accredited provider with the American Academy of Dental Hygiene, and a member of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health. The Immediate Past President of the Texas Dental Hygienists Association, she currently represents the Xlear/Spry Xylitol product line. Kris offers information to a cross section of medical and dental offices in 10 states, and dental topics to consumer, advocacy, support and special interest groups. She owns Kris Potts, RDH, LLC, which offers educational speaking, writing, and consulting services for dental professionals.
(1) Llop MR, Jimeno FG, Acién RM, Bellet Dalmau LJ. (2010). Effects Of Xylitol Chewing Gum On Salivary Flow Rate, pH, Buffering Capacity And Presence Of Streptococcus Mutans In Saliva, Eur J Paediatr Dent., 11(1):9-14. PMID: 20359274.
(2) Velasquez, CMF, Naravaez, CCG. (2013). Effect of Xylitol Chewing Gum on Dental Plaque, Saliva Flow and Saliva Buffer Capacity in Chilean Youngsters, Int. J. Odontostomat. vol.7 no.1, http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-381X2013000100021.
(3) Scheinin A, Mäkinen KK, Ylitalo K. (1976). Turku Sugar Studies. V. Final Report On The Effect Of Sucrose, Fructose And Xylitol Diets On The Caries Incidence In Man, Acta Odontol Scand. 34(4):179-216. PMID:795260.
(4) Ly KA, Milgrom P, Roberts MC, et al. (2006). Linear Response Of Mutans Streptococci To Increasing Frequency Of Xylitol Chewing Gum Use: A Randomized Controlled Trial, BMC Oral Health, 24;6:6.