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The sweet salvation

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Many of you have seen television commercials or ads concerning the use of sugar-free gum to aid in the prevention of cavities. You probably have a few questions and would like to know the main ingredient in the sugar-free gum and exactly how it works to prevent tooth decay.

First, let's start off with the main active ingredient, xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar replacement or a sugar alcohol derived from naturally occurring substances found in fruits such as plums, berries and strawberries. It's nutritive because it contains calories unlike artificial sweeteners. It has been used in foods since 1963 and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Let's continue by discussing how xylitol works and the benefits of xylitol use.

First, it needs to be understood how cavities are formed. There are certain bacteria in your mouth that can cause tooth decay, and whenever you eat a meal with carbohydrates, the sugar becomes food for those bacteria. The bacteria metabolize the sugar, creating acid that attacks the enamel until a cavity lesion is formed. Unlike sugar, xylitol is not digested by mouth bacteria meaning it's not cavity producing. Instead, xylitol can help inhibit cavities from forming.

What are some other benefits of xylitol? Earlier studies in the Journal of Dental Research have demonstrated that preventing these bacteria in early childhood reduces dental decay and that mothers are the primary source of infectious bacteria through physical contact or sharing of food. Mothers who chew xylitol gum approximately three to four times a day were shown to reduce their child's tooth decay by more than 70 percent up to two years of age. Xylitol's can also inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause middle ear infections in young children by 40 percent, decreasing ear complications and the need for antibiotics.

Xylitol has nasal benefits as well; regular usage of nasal spray containing xyltiol decreases the number of harmful bacteria and stimulates normal defensive washing of this area. A clean nose reduces problems with allergies and asthma that originate from nasal irritants and pollutants.

In order to gain maximum benefits of xylitol, it must be ingested frequently and in the correct amount. It's recommended to use six to 10 grams per day via chewing gum (break up the dose into three or four administrations), which must be chewed for five minutes. As you can see, xylitol has tremendous benefits when used frequently and correctly.