Xylitol’s Role in Preventing Cavities Acknowledged by Dental Experts

The important role that xylitol can play in the prevention of dental caries was recognized by a panel of dental experts at a recent consensus conference held in Washington, in the USA. The conference was organised by the National Institute of Health (a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services) in order to develop a consensus on the future direction in the diagnosis and management of dental caries.

The three-day event reviewed an extraordinary amount of scientific data, which was collated and presented by a number of leading experts in the field of dental health and dental caries research. The expert panel was then required to prepare a consensus statement.

Whilst the conference covered a diverse range of diagnostic, treatment and disease management techniques associated with dental caries, the potential importance of xylitol in further reducing dental caries, particularly when administered in the form of chewing gum, was clearly stated. The panel reported that there was strong evidence to support the use of chewing gum containing xylitol as an aid to dental health, and that this evidence was stronger than that for chewing gums containing sorbitol.

Catherine Hayes, D.M.D, D.M.Sc., of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, presented the review of the scientific evidence supporting the use of non-cariogenic sweeteners in the prevention of dental caries. This extensive review demonstrated that xylitol was effective in reducing the occurrence of dental caries in both adults and children, and highlighted the fact that xylitol is clearly superior in this effect compared to other non-cariogenic sweeteners.

Several American news agencies reporting on the conference made positive references to xylitol, and highlighted the value of consuming chewing gum containing xylitol in the fight against dental caries.

A full report of the NIH Consensus Conference, entitled “Diagnosis and Management of Dental Caries Throughout Life” together with the full consensus statement, is available by visiting the NIH Consensus Development Program website at http://consensus.nih.gov. The panel’s press release is also available on the website at http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/mar2001/od-28a.htm

“Xylitol is possibly the most promising development since the introduction of fluoride.”

Dr Ronnie Levine, author of the Scientific Basis of Dental Health Education for the Health Development Agency (formerly the Health Education Authority), says: “As an anti-plaque and anti-caries (tooth decay) agent, Xylitol is possibly the most promising development since the introduction of fluoride.”

Xylitol is a bulk sweetener (as opposed to an artificial sweetener) related to sugar and extracted from birch wood. Unlike most other sugars, Xylitol cannot be converted to acid in the mouth by bacteria. It suppresses unfavourable mouth bacteria, especially Mutans streptococci, and inhibits plaque formation.

A study published in the Journal of Dental Research showed that the children of mothers who regularly chewed Xylitol-sweetened gum had about a 70 per cent reduction in tooth decay…”

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