Typically, it's a good policy to be skeptical of outlandish headlines, and in this case, you won't be able to believe your ears...er, eyes. Nevertheless, it's true: a group of Canadian researchers recently announced that chewing xylitol gum can prevent ear infections. Such products can also treat gum disease and prevent bad breath. What a deal!
Scientists came to this conclusion by analyzing the results of three previous investigations into the benefits of chewing gum that contains xylitol. This natural sweetener occurs in many fruits and vegetables. Unlike typical sugars, xylitol does not feed the bacteria in your mouth.
In fact, this sugar substitute slows the growth of several harmful oral microbes.
A study conducted at the Coastal Carolina University found that xylitol inhibits the spread of Lactobacillus casei and Streptococcus salivarius, two microorganisms associated with bad breath and dental decay. Another report - published in the journal Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontology - confirmed as much, adding that xylitol gum appears to treat gum disease and prevent periodontitis too.
While these effects are already worth the cost of specialty breath freshening gum, the new meta-study suggested that such products may improve ear health to boot!
Published in the journal Cochrane Reviews, the report based its conclusions on three prior studies, all of which were conducted in Finland. In them, researchers had explored the value of allowing children to chew xylitol gum.
The results were nothing less than astounding. Based on the three studies, the Canadian team determined that kids who chewed xylitol gum had a 25 percent lower risk of developing acute otitis media (AOM), or middle ear infection.
Researchers theorized that the effect was due to the bacteria-repelling effects of xylitol. Previous studies have shown that AOM starts in the mouth. As bacterial colonies grow on a child's palate, one particular strain can become problematic.
Called Streptococcus mutans, this species of microbe can migrate up the Eustachian tubes, which are canals that connect the ears to the back of the throat. Once these tubes become infected and clogged, the middle ear becomes painfully swollen.
AOM is no small problem in the U.S. According to a study appearing in the journal Pediatrics, middle ear infections account for about 16 million hospital visits and nearly $2 billion in healthcare spending.
Want to treat gum disease, freshen breath and prevent AOM all at once? Try some xylitol gum today!