Brush, floss and… xylitol

Brush, floss and… xylitol

Why hasn’t the American dental community embraced xylitol? Hmm, cavities mean cash, right?

Is it time for Americans to go beyond teeth brushing, flossing and rinsing when it comes to oral care? Surrounded as I currently am by dentists and oral hygienists at a xylitol conference listening to statistics, stories and research, I’d say YES.

The frustration within the dental community here is palpable. Why is dental health so often lost amid other health concerns? These practitioners and researchers want to see the same dedication to alternative dental health practices that other health conditions garner. They are demanding a new dental paradigm: “preventistry” .   A care protocol that could lower antibiotic use, emergency room visits and unnecessary pain.  

The battle cry here is xylitol. Chances are you’ve heard of it and seen it in products like toothpaste, gum and candy.  Xylitol is a naturally occurring 5-carbon sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables and produced in small amounts by the human body.  And, ironically for a dental health product, it’s naturally super sweet.

 Xylitol works by interfering with the metabolism of Streptococcus mutans, one of the primary bacteria that causes cavities. Nope, cavities aren’t caused by sugar simply creating holes your teeth.

Studies show that xylitol gum or candy used five times a day can reduce cavities by up to 50 percent. When pregnant women used xylitol products, their children had significantly less dental disease than children of mothers’ who didn’t do the xylitol protocol.

Researchers here also reported on xylitol in the elder community. Sadly, dental care is sorely lacking in our nation’s dependent care facilities, according to Shirley Gutkowski, RDH. “Dentists don’t want to go into nursing homes. And often when they do they have to deal with patients kicking and biting,” she says. When she and a colleague administered xylitol gum, mints and oral mist, to the residents on a regular basis, their mouth health was significantly improved.

So why hasn’t the American dental community embraced xylitol? Hmm, cavities mean cash, right? According to one Finnish dentist here (xylitol is ubiquitous in Finland), 80 percent of 18 year olds in Finland don’t have cavities—the inverse is true in the United States. Hmm.

Xlear, a manufacturer of xylitol and sponsor of this conference, is dedicated to increasing xylitol awareness. It’s found that dental hygienists are the key to “Bridging the Gap” — its program to increase xylitol knowledge and use. One facet of the program is teaching other hygienists the value of xylitol so they can pass this along to their patients who will then buy the products in natural products stores.

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