The Magic Sweetener?

Dental researchers have known something most of us don’t know – that the natural sweetener xylitol can prevent cavities.  It may be about as good as fluoride.   Dr. Peter Milgrom, who teaches, researches and practices dentistry at the University of Washington, has become a big fan of xylitol.   Earlier this week, I reported on his latest study, showing a benefit to babies.

Here are some additional xylitol facts from Dr. Milgrom that I couldn’t shoe-horn into the story:

  • The shortcomings of xylitol:   It has “cool” taste, similar to mint, so works best in cold foods or mint flavors. And it’s a little more expensive than other sweeteners.
  • Most studies so far have shown you need to get at least two, often three, doses of xylitol per day to get a benefit.  And if it’s in a gum or toothpaste, for example, it needs to be the number one ingredient, not diluted with other sweeteners.
  • But, if you get too much xylitol (admittedly rare), you might get stomach upset and diarrhea.
  • There were some suggestive studies from Finland, using very small samples, saying xylitol also might prevent ear infections.   Weird, and not verified.   Milgrom has applied for funding to investigate that.
Birch trees in Finland (Flickr photo by Slider5)

Birch trees in Finland (Flickr photo by Slider5)

Finland, by the way, is like the World Capitol for xylitol.  The Finns have been building up a xylitol industry, presumably because they can grow big crops of birch trees, which are the main source of the substance.

Milgrom’s research is mostly government funded, but he does get free xylitol for his experiments from a Danish company called Danisco.   If you’re intrigued, he says Danisco runs a credible website for basic facts about xylitol.

(What does xylitol do?  Basically, it blocks the bacteria that form dental plaques, interfering with their ability to feed and to stick to teeth.)