Chewing gum can be sweetened artificially, using aspartame or sorbitol, or using a natural sweetener, like sugar or xylitol. Xylitol gum is made with xylitol, a “tooth friendly” sugar alcohol naturally found in tree wood. Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar except, unlike regular cane sugar or other sweeteners, xylitol poses many dental hygiene benefits.
Xylitol has anticariogenic properties. Specifically, xylitol inhibits Streptococcus mutans bacteria, the bacteria mainly responsible for causing dental cavities. Compare this to other sweeteners, which commonly promote bacterial growth. This wood sugar also reduces plaque by attracting and inhibiting harmful microorganisms from growing, giving teeth time to remineralize enamel lesions.
The benefits go beyond teeth. A 1996 study in the “British Medical Journal” conducted a study to see if xylitol gum had any effect on children who experienced repeated ear infections. Half of the children chewed xylitol gum and the other half chewed regular chewing gum at the same frequency. The children chewing xylitol gum experienced a significantly reduced rate of ear infections. Xylitol gum is also popular for diabetics because the sweetener is slowly absorbed by the body and has only a minimal effect on blood glucose levels.
Xylitol was first discovered in 1891 by a German chemist and has been used in U.S. foods since the 1960s. There are no known serious risks to humans associated with xylitol. Wood sugar is a mild laxative, though, and some people can experience bouts of diarrhea. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) consider xylitol safe for everyone to consume, from infants to pregnant women and the elderly. However, xylitol-containing products can be deadly to dogs.
The best way to get xylitol in your diet is by regularly chewing gum. Xylitol gum can be purchased in mainstream grocery stores, health food stores or online through the manufacturer. There are many flavors and brands to choose from.
This sweetener isn’t used often in baking goods because it can interact negatively with yeast. Xylitol gum typically contains about 1 gram of xylitol per piece. The only way to experience health benefits associated with xylitol is to consume 4 to 12 grams of this substance per day. Xylitol gum containing 1 gram of the sweetener must be chewed at least four times a day for any effects to be seen. Otherwise, the gum will prove ineffective, even if taken in higher doses but only once or twice a day.