Cherry Berry Xylitol at snack time

Xylitol, An An Awesome Ally for Children's Oral Health

Parents have so many things to worry about! Today’s parents have a vast array of decisions about whether or not to vaccinate their child, which diet is best, if cloth or paper diapers are preferable, and if it is safe for an infant to sleep in bed with the parents. Many of these choices carry the potential for positive or negative impact on the child, and parents want to make the right choice. Most parents also want their child to have nice teeth and avoid dental problems. Some parents have endured a lifetime of cavities and fillings and want a better future for their children. Others understand that mouth health impacts general health and they value teeth.

What Parents Don’t Know

Most parents do not know that cavities are a bacterial disease. They often have no idea that Strep mutans bacteria are passed in droplets of saliva from their mouths to infect the infant. When parents understand the significance of this they naturally want the best advice to solve the problem.

The last thing a stressed parent needs is to feel guilty for not brushing or flossing their baby’s teeth. I am a pediatric dentist, but as a mother and grandma I find the brush and floss advice challenging and it can add to a parent’s child-caring burden. The simplest and most effective cavity-preventing ideas are often not promoted in the United States and people are often surprised to know about the hundreds of studies that show the ease with which delicious xylitol can direct a family history of bad teeth in the direction of health. For fifty years, xylitol has been a Public Health measure in Finland and other countries, where xylitol gum is shared with preschool children to improve their dental health before the eruption of adult teeth.

Xylitol for Parents

Parents can use a little xylitol each day to improve their own mouth health and prevent the spread of cavity bacteria to their families. Parents can reduce the population of cavity-forming bacteria in their mouths with 6.5 grams of xylitol daily. The most effective time to consume xylitol appears to be after meals, taking one gram of xylitol six or seven times a day. One gram of xylitol is in each piece of Zellie’s gum and Zellie’s 100% xylitol mints offer half a gram in each mint. When the health of the parent’s mouth is improved this reduces the chance that they will infect their child with cavity-forming Strep mutans.

Xylitol for the Family

Xylitol can also help children during the earliest years of childhood by helping to establish the foundation for a healthy mouth ecosystem. Parents can wipe erupting baby teeth with a solution of ¼ teaspoon of granular xylitol dissolved in water, several times each day. This small amount of xylitol offers great protection during the eruption of baby teeth that begins around six months of age. When xylitol continues to be a part of daily care for a young child, it ensures the development of a healthy mouth ecology prior to the eruption of adult teeth, around age five.

Teeth at Age Four

Dentists have always known that children with good teeth at preschool age will have an improved chance of oral health for life, and vice-versa. We know that this relates to the state of the mouth’s ecology – not to the number of fillings or cavities a child has experienced. It is never too late to turn mouth health around with xylitol. Studies show when xylitol is consumed for a period of two years as teeth erupt, it reduces decay dramatically and the effects are long-lived.

Mouth Health for Life

Now that we know that healthy bacteria that are so essential for oral health, we need to learn more about how to protect these “keys” to cavity-free mouth health. When the mouth ecosystem is healthy it appears to naturally protect erupting teeth from cavities and it may even influence digestive health to help guard children from obesity and gluten intolerance.

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Links to studies:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1287824/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2147593/