Dental trend spotlight: Xylitol products

You may have noticed an ingredient called “xylitol” appearing in products from gum to peanut butter. Proponents tout its benefits, but before popping a piece of xylitol gum in your mouth, it’s good to pop a couple of questions.

What is it?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar that can be found in fruits, vegetables and grains like raspberries, mushrooms, corn and oats. It’s typically extracted from fibers in birch trees or corn husks and cobs.

When xylitol is extracted from plants, it can be used as an artificial sweetener with some pretty sweet benefits. First, it contains about one-third of the caloric content of regular table sugar. More importantly, it doesn’t cause tooth decay like sugar. In fact, it can actually help prevent cavities.


Is it effective?

Xylitol has been proven to effectively prevent cavities when added to chewing gum, toothpaste and other oral care products. But there’s a caveat: It takes about 20 grams of xylitol a day to truly work, which is quite a lot – it’s the equivalent of about 20 sticks of gum. The small, naturally occurring amount found in food is likely not enough to have an effect on teeth.

Is it safe to use?

Doctors assert that it’s safe to consume up to 50 grams of xylitol a day. When consumed in excess, however, xylitol can cause diarrhea and intestinal gas. Because long-term side effects haven’t been extensively studied, you should avoid xylitol if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

However, xylitol is not safe for dogs in any quantity – the substance has proven deadly when ingested by our canine friends, even in small amounts. If your dog does munch a morsel with xylitol, call your vet immediately.

The verdict: In safe doses, foods containing xylitol are a great way to cut back on the amount of sugar in your diet and may even help prevent cavities. But it’s definitely not a replacement for your usual oral health routine, so make sure you keep regular brushing and flossing on the menu.