The sugar substitute known as xylitol, added to chewing gum and various dental care products, has gained a great deal of attention for its cavity-preventing effects. This has led people who would like to avoid fluoride to seek out products containing xylitol instead of fluoride. Is this a good strategy? Will you get good results from using xylitol toothpaste and other products?
Effects of Fluoride on Teeth
Dentists encourage their patients to use toothpaste containing fluoride because that substance strengthens tooth enamel and even remineralizes enamel in the very early stages of decay. Pediatric patients who have trouble with tooth decay often benefit from fluoride treatments and the use of fluoridated mouthwash.
Although dentists generally assure their patients that fluoride is safe, including as an additive in drinking water, some individuals have become wary of the substance. They look for other options, such as xylitol.
Effects of Xylitol on Teeth
Xylitol, a sugar alcohol derived from plant sources, has generated some excitement because of various beneficial effects for dental health. It disrupts the action of cavity-causing bacteria and stops those bacteria from sticking to teeth. It limits the formation of plaque on teeth and helps prevent demineralization, the initial stage of tooth decay.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry backs the use of xylitol for preventing tooth decay in people who are more prone to developing cavities, mainly children and teens. However, the organization's statement indicates that xylitol is to be part of a larger preventive strategy.
Keep in mind that only toothpastes with fluoride have the American Dental Association seal of approval for effectiveness. Research has not yet proven that any other substance is as good for preventing cavities as fluoride is.
Instead of switching from a fluoride toothpaste to one containing only xylitol as the active ingredient, consider using a product that contains both beneficial substances. A study of nearly 1,700 children found that using a combination product led to significantly fewer cavities than using toothpaste without xylitol. Although it's unclear whether those results would be similar in adults, research has found benefits of xylitol chewing gum for adults.
Ask your dentist for an opinion on xylitol toothpaste, mouthwash, lozenges, chewing gum and other products. Get expert advice on whether it might be OK to stop using toothpaste with fluoride and change to one containing xylitol. If you have no problems with cavities and your teeth are strong, you might try avoiding fluoride for the six months before your next dental exam and then learn whether your teeth are still in great condition.