The question of chewing sugary gums, or any kind of candy, has long since been answered as bad for your teeth. The sugars feed the cavity causing bacteria in your mouth, they produce lots of acid and this then destroys your teeth and encourages gum disease.
But how about non-sugar gums? Can they actually help in the fight against tooth decay?
A number of scientific studies on the benefits of xylitol versus sorbitol have looked at this question and the winner is clearly xylitol.
Interestingly, xylitol does not directly kill bacteria so it is not like a germicide mouthwash. Instead, it actually disrupts the metabolism cycle of a bacterium by filling the place where sugars normally go.
Now, without sugars to metabolize, the bacteria literally starve to death and dies. In a normal energy production cycle, using sugars, the bacteria will produce acids. These acids lead to tooth erosion and decay. But without acids present, then this decay does not happen.
Additionally, as the mouth becomes less acidic this means that acid-loving bacteria (the ones that cause tooth decay) have a hard time surviving and so a more cavity preventative environment is created.
Sorbitol, on the other hand, is more fermentable and so does not have the same starvation effect upon bacteria.
One other major benefit of xylitol is that clinical studies have shown that xylitol actually assists with calcium absorption. As we all know, calcium is the main element in building strong and healthy teeth. The presence of xylitol is associated with the uptake of calcium and so can assist with the remineralization of your teeth.
One other benefit is connected to chewing gum, this is the increase in saliva flow. Saliva is one of nature’s strongest tools to keep our teeth strong and healthy. Saliva counteracts the acids produced by bacteria in your mouth, helping to keep that destructive element in check. Plus, saliva transports minerals to your teeth and so play a critical role in strengthening your teeth through remineralization.
While there still is quite a bit of research to be done on this subject, the facts to date point to xylitol acting primarily against the unhealthy acid and plaque producing bacteria in your mouth. Fundamentally, xylitol helps to restore a health pH balance in your mouth by neutralizing the acid-producing bacteria. Now, the restored environment encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. It is a win-win for your mouth, teeth and gums!
In closing, the basic reason that xylitol beats out sorbitol for oral health benefits has to do with its effect upon inhibiting the growth cycle of acid-producing bacteria. And, although both are sugar-substitutes, they don’t have the same effect upon bacteria.
One other thing to mention is that xylitol is more effective if given some time to work in the mouth. That is another great reason to chew xylitol gum as it is now in your mouth long enough to do its job.