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No Time to Brush? Chew Gum Instead

In an ideal world, you would brush after every meal. While this isn’t practical for most people, research suggests that chewing gum with xylitol, a sweetener derived from the bark of birch trees, may be the next best thing.

Studying Sweetness

In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota Oral Health Research Clinic, 151 people chewed a commercial gum sweetened with xylitol for five minutes after each meal. A similar-sized group chewed a standard sorbitol-sweetened gum at the same intervals. A third group didn’t chew gum at all. All participants used a powerful antiseptic mouth rinse for two weeks before beginning the chewing regimen to bring decay-causing bacteria to the lowest level possible. After three months, the number of bacteria in the saliva of the xylitol group remained lower than in the other two groups.

How Does Xylitol Work?

The sugar or starch in foods and beverages supplies the bacteria in your mouth with energy, allowing them to multiply and produce acids that attack tooth enamel. But because bacteria in the mouth aren’t able to digest xylitol, this sweetener inhibits the growth of these microorganisms and reduces the production of destructive acids. In addition, xylitol may interfere with the ability of Streptococcus mutans to produce the sticky substance that helps these bacteria adhere to the teeth.

Although sugarless gum without xylitol doesn’t seem to suppress bacteria, it can help increase the flow of saliva, which protects teeth. Still, because gum with xylitol offers this benefit as well as protection against bacteria, it’s an even better choice.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Dental Research looked at how much xylitol was necessary to reduce bacteria. The study divided 132 participants randomly into four groups: those given 3, 6, or 10 grams a day and those receiving a placebo. The 3-gram dose didn’t seem to have an effect, but the higher doses significantly reduced Streptococcus mutans in the mouth. Thus, the researchers recommend getting between 6 and 10 grams of xylitol a day from chewing gum. For the best results, break the dose up, so you chew xylitol-containing gum three or four times a day. One of the researchers also notes that in order to get the full amount of xylitol, you must chew the gum for at least five minutes.

Finding Gum with Xylitol

Many gum manufacturers now offer brands containing xylitol. Often, however, these brands also contain other sweeteners, such as sorbitol. Currently, most food stores stock only gum that combines xylitol with other sweeteners. Although gum with sweeteners in addition to xylitol may provide some benefits, gum with xylitol as its only sweetener is thought to be more effective. You can buy such gum—as well as xylitol candy, which also shows promise for reducing bacteria—from several Web sites, such as,, and, or directly from some dentists’ offices.


Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.


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