Updated on February 22, 2024
7 min read

Xylitol’s Effects on Your Oral Health

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What is Xylitol?

Xylitol (pronounced: zai-luh-taal) is a sugar alcohol or polyol that naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables.

It can be found in the following:

  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Oats
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Husks
  • Corn cobs
  • Plant stalks

Commercially, xylitol is extracted and processed from fibrous plant materials and hardwoods. Many people use it as a sugar substitute, food additive, and low-calorie sweetener for people with elevated blood sugar (e.g., diabetes).

Keep in mind that xylitol isn’t an actual sugar. Rather, it’s a carbohydrate with a chemical structure similar to alcohol and sugar. While Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar, it doesn’t affect the body like alcohol.

white and brown sugar in bowls

Is Xylitol an Artificial Sweetener?

No. Xylitol isn’t an artificial sweetener.

Aspartame, Sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners are synthetically produced in laboratories. They’re considered non-nutritive sweeteners because they have zero calories and don’t provide energy when consumed.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring plant-based product and a nutritive sweetener. Unlike artificial sweeteners, it provides some calories as well as energy when consumed.

Xylitol: Is it Healthy or Safe?

Consuming xylitol is safe for humans. Dental products and food that contain xylitol are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption.

Is Xylitol a Healthy Substitute? Does it Spike Blood Sugar?

Yes. Xylitol is a healthy sugar substitute for three reasons:

  1. It’s a low-calorie substitute for both white and brown sugar
  2. It doesn’t cause your blood sugar to rise significantly
  3. It offers the same sweet taste as sugar

Calories in Xylitol — Nutrition Information

Xylitol has fewer calories than regular table sugar. It contains approximately 9 calories per teaspoon, compared to sugar, which contains 16.1 

Xylitol is a healthy alternative to sugar for people who want to:

  • Lose excess weight
  • Maintain normal body weight
  • Decrease their calorie consumption
  • Reduce their sugar intake

Sugar alcohols such as xylitol are often used as food additives due to their low-calorie content.2

Helpful for Diabetics

The glycemic index (GI) measures how much food affects your blood sugar on a scale of 0 to 100. It tells you how slowly or quickly the body metabolizes food into simple sugars for energy. Foods can have a low, medium, or high glycemic index:

  • Low GI: 0 to 55 (good)
  • Medium GI: 56 to 69
  • High GI: 70 and above

Brown and white sugar have a medium glycemic index ranging from 60 to 65. Xylitol has a low glycemic index of 12.2 This means that, compared to sugar, the body takes longer to metabolize xylitol.

Individuals with diabetes can benefit from xylitol because it doesn’t cause a drastic increase in blood sugar levels. Studies show that it also helps maintain stable blood sugar.3,4

The Sweetest Sugar Alcohol

Xylitol is just as sweet as sugar. It has a relative sweetness of 0.97, which is only 3% less than actual sugar. 

Currently, it’s the sweetest sugar substitute among sugar alcohols. Xylitol is often used with other sweeteners to mask their bitterness.2

Is Xylitol Beneficial for Dental Health? 

Yes. Xylitol is tooth-friendly.

In fact, you can replace sugar with xylitol to help protect your teeth. It also offers unique oral health benefits that other sugar alcohols don’t.2,5

6 Oral Health Benefits of Xylitol

Here are some xylitol benefits:

1. Prevents plaque buildup

Xylitol can’t be metabolized by acid-forming bacteria or used as a nutrient. Instead, bacteria convert xylitol into xylitol 5-phosphate (X5P), which inhibits their metabolism and acid production. 

Since oral bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus need an acidic environment to thrive, the non-acidic nature of xylitol prevents their growth (along with plaque formation).6

Sugar-free chewing gum containing xylitol further prevents plaque by stimulating saliva production. The increased saliva neutralizes plaque pH and washes out the excess sugars, acids, and bacteria that pool in the mouth shortly after eating sugary food and drinks.6

2. Effectively removes plaque

Xylitol reduces the bulk and stickiness of pre-existing plaque, resulting in a decrease in plaque mass. This is because xylitol interferes with Streptococcus mutans

According to one study, xylitol can cause a slowed production of polysaccharides. It can also prevent the collection of bacteria cells and reduce the adhesiveness of bacteria to teeth.6

3. Actively stops tooth decay

Xylitol is non-cariogenic like other sugar alcohols. This means that it inhibits S. mutans from breeding in your mouth. 

The sugar alcohol also stops the growth of bacteria in the mouth by increasing saliva production. These combined effects give xylitol the ability to prevent dental caries.2,5

4. Protects against dental caries for years

Xylitol is unique from other polyols because it offers long-term protection against tooth decay. 

Clinical researchers investigated people who used xylitol chewing gums for 2 to 3 years. A follow-up was conducted several years later. They found that xylitol continued to protect against dental caries even though participants stopped chewing gum a few years earlier.7

5. Great for kids’ dental health

Xylitol provides even more benefits for children’s oral health. Children that chew xylitol-containing gum for at least one year before their permanent teeth erupt are better protected against tooth decay.7 

Studies have also shown that mothers pass on their oral microflora to infants.8 Consumption of xylitol chewing gum while pregnant enables the mother to pass its teeth-protective qualities to their children.5 

The same children experienced fewer dental caries than those whose mothers did not use these products.8

6. Promotes remineralization

The effectiveness of xylitol goes beyond the prevention of dental caries. Evidence suggests it can also repair teeth.

While the ADA still recommends fluoride toothpaste, xylitol is a great alternative to help fight tooth decay. 

When you consume food and drinks that are high in sugar, acids accumulate in the mouth and cause the plaque pH to drop below 5.5. The acidic environment reduces the saturation of phosphate and hydroxyl ions in the mouth and dissolves tooth minerals.

Xylitol-containing chewing gum increases the production of saliva, which helps with remineralization.

Saliva contains calcium and phosphate ions which perform minimal repairs on damaged enamel. Remineralization reverses the progression of dental caries and prevents their development.8

What Dental Products Contain Xylitol?

Some xylitol-containing products for dental health include:

  • Breath fresheners
  • Breath mints
  • Chewing gum
  • Dental floss
  • Dry mouth sprays
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste

Foods That Contain Xylitol

Besides dental products, many foods and beverages contain xylitol as a sugar substitute. It’s widely used in food as an additive or as a sugar substitute, especially in people with elevated blood sugar levels (e.g., diabetes).

Food products containing xylitol include:

  • Sweeteners
  • Sugar-free candies
  • Chewable vitamins and dietary supplements
  • Over-the-counter medications (e.g., cough syrups)
  • Diabetic foods (e.g., sugar-free desserts)

Xylitol can also be used to substitute sugar when making baked goods like cakes and muffins.

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Xylitol’s Effects on Your Oral Health
NewMouth Podcast

5 Other Health Benefits of Xylitol

Xylitol does more than prevent dental caries and maintain normal blood sugar. Based on clinical evidence, it offers other benefits as well.

1. Keeps the skin healthy and hydrated

Applying 5% xylitol and 5% glycerol to dry skin for 14 days increases skin hydration, reduces moisture loss, and improves the thickness of the skin so it’s better protected against injury. 

A higher concentration of xylitol (8.26%) was also shown to reduce skin irritation. Furthermore, xylitol is proven to have antimicrobial and cooling effects on the skin, which shows its potential application in wound care.4 

2. Improves bowel function

Xylitol is a prebiotic that promotes healthy gut flora. Clinical evidence shows that xylitol chewing gum helps relieve constipation and encourages bowel movement, especially after undergoing a Caesarian section or elective proctectomy.4

3. Strengthens bones

Xylitol ferments and isn’t digested in the intestines. As it ferments, it produces short-chain fatty acids, improving digestion and absorption of minerals such as calcium. This, in turn, helps strengthen the bones.4

4. Supports respiratory health

Nasal sprays that contain xylitol prevent the growth of certain harmful bacteria in the airways. It also improves the quality of life in patients with sinusitis and non-allergic nasal congestion.4

5. Prevent ear infections

Xylitol consumption in children lowers their risk for ear infections by up to 25%. It didn’t matter whether they received xylitol as chewing gum or lozenge. They continued to enjoy the same protection against acute otitis media (AOM).9

Summary

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is widely used in various products. Aside from preventing dental caries, it also has other health benefits. To ensure your safety, it’s best to consult your dentist or doctor before consuming xylitol.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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