If you've ever popped a stick of sugar-free gum and wondered why it didn't immediately reduce your bad breath, you may have been chewing a product that didn't contain xylitol. This substance is widely considered to be a teeth-whitening magic bullet in the ongoing fight against halitosis and dental decay.
If the word "xylitol" sounds familiar, perhaps you've heard it in advertisements for specialty breath fresheners. This compound is, like many others that came before it, simply a sugar substitute. However, xylitol is relatively unique in its effects on your dental health.
In a paper written at Coastal Carolina University, biologist Laura Walters noted that xylitol appears to protect teeth from Streptococcus mutans, a strain of bacteria known for its role in the creation of cavities.
S. mutans is what scientists like to call a "pioneer" species. It tends to be the first bacterium to invade a healthy dental region, where it gradually changes the pH of the area, making the place habitable for other, decay-causing microorganisms.
Xylitol uniquely inhibits the growth of S. mutans, reducing the risk of cavities. This effect makes the sugar substitute an excellent teeth-whitening agent.
Studies have shown that people who chew specialty xylitol-based gum tend to develop fewer cavities than those who prefer gum sweetened with fructose.
Oral care experts simply recommend using these products in moderation and keeping xylitol away from dogs and cats, since research has shown that the substance may be harmful to pets. However, xylitol is all-natural, harvested from hardwood trees, which may also make it appropriate for other dental treatments.
For instance, a study appearing in the journal Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontology found that a probiotics-xylitol solution freshened breath over a period of several weeks.
Using gum, mints or breath strips that contain xylitol may be a great way to improve a teeth-whitening regimen or to prevent cavity formation.