As dentists, we commonly tout the benefits of sugar free gum (and sometimes even that sugar free candy). And, for most people, seeing that a product is sugar free gives them a sense of relief that what they’re consuming is both waistline and mouth friendly!
However, in the age of all-natural and organic foods, how much do we really know about what we’re putting into our bodies? For example, xylitol is an ingredient that is very commonly found in sugar-free products. And…as they say, if it’s hard to pronounce, does that make it bad for your body?
Below we’ll break down what we know about xylitol and let you come to your own conclusions! Let’s dive in…
Quick history of sugar free gum
Trident was the first national brand of sugar-free chewing gum. It was developed by the American Chicle company in response to medical discoveries linking sugar to tooth decay. The original Trident formula contained sugar but also three enzymes designed to promote dental health and therefore the name “Trident.”
Sugar-Free Trident was introduced in 1964 with the slogan “The Great Taste that Is Good for Your Teeth!” American Chicle’s marketing was one of the first national campaigns to promote dental health through chewing gum.
So, what is xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally-occurring alcohol found in most plant material, including many fruits and vegetables. It’s extracted from birch wood to make medicine. It’s also commonly used to combat middle ear infections in young children, and even used for nasal irrigation for those with sinus issues.
In addition to its medicinal purposes, xylitol is also commonly used as a sugar substitute in sugar free chewing gums, mints and other candies. It has the purported benefits of helping to prevent both tooth decay and dry mouth. It’s also commonly used by diabetics as a substitute for real sugar products.
And why is it popular?
Added sugar (specifically refined sugar) might just be the unhealthiest ingredient in the modern diet. And because of the increasing amount of sugar in everyday products, sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol are becoming more and more popular.
Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar but has fewer calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Table sugar has four calories per gram while xylitol only has 2.4. This has become one of the most popular options for diabetics since it has a very low glycemic level (and doesn’t cause dangerous spikes in blood sugar or insulin).
Is xylitol really good for my teeth?
Dentists have long recognized the oral health benefits of chewing gum in general. Studies have shown that chewing sugar free gum after a meal can help rinse off harmful acids and even help prevent the potential of tooth decay.
In addition, chewing gums helps to stimulate up to ten times as much as saliva in your mouth than would otherwise naturally occur. This helps prevent dry mouth, which on its own can lead to significant oral health problems since bad bacteria are able to infiltrate gum lines easier.
Finally, chewing gum can actually prevent the growth of bad bacteria that causes cavities since one of the main ingredients in gum—xylitol—causes the mouth to become inhospitable to these bacteria.
And it is due to these benefits that the American Dental Association has put its seal of approval on sugar free gums. If you are in a pinch after a meal and need something to freshen your breath (or don’t have the opportunity to brush), popping in sugar free gum with xylitol is a great option.
There has to be a catch…right?
If you are starting to get concerned that this is all too good to be true, we should probably outline some of the more common concerns people have raised.
First, for dog lovers, xylitol is highly toxic to our four-legged friends. While xylitol is absorbed slowly and has no measurable effect on insulin production in humans, in dogs their bodies mistake it for glucose which sends their body into an overdrive of production of insulin. This can lead to severe low blood sugar and even death in dogs. It can also lead to liver failure in dogs.
For humans, adverse side effects are rare and less severe. For some people who consume xylitol in large quantities, they experience digestive issues. However, the bottom line is that, as a sweetener, xylitol is a good alternative to real sugar and is definitely tooth-friendly!