As a pediatric dentist and a mother, I spend a lot of time talking about the “sugar bugs” and encourage my patients and kids to avoid and limit sugar when possible. The reason being, sugar is the fuel for the harmful bacteria on our teeth. Cavities are formed when bacteria metabolizes sugar, creating a harmful acid that erodes tooth enamel.
There are substitutes to sugar that offer the sweet benefit of traditional sugar but are not metabolized and don’t cause cavities. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol derived primarily from plants and is commonly used as an alternative to sugar. It can be a helpful natural ingredient to replace sugar but still satisfy your sweet tooth. You have probably seen xylitol in products like toothpastes, gums, and mints. Xylitol also comes in granules that resemble sugar. A quick search for xylitol on Pinterest brings up a ton of baking ideas for sugar-free treats. Health food stores usually carry the xylitol granules in the baking aisle.
If you’re looking to try xylitol toothpastes, make sure the toothpaste also contains fluoride. Xylitol doesn’t have any properties to help remineralize or strengthen the enamel like fluoride does so it should not replace fluoride in your daily preventive plan.
Another great defender against cavities? Your spit! That’s right, saliva helps to clear food debris from teeth and also helps neutralize the pH in our mouths. Chewing gum that’s sweetened with xylitol is an easy way to stimulate saliva production. Chewing gum for 15 minutes after a meal can help naturally clean your teeth. Brands of gum containing xylitol include Spry, Epic, PUR gum, Zellies, and Trident, to name a few. Please keep in mind, younger children need to be careful when chewing gum as to not swallow it, and anyone with TMJ disorders should avoid chewing gum altogether.
Sugar substitutes are a great way to help avoid cavities, but of course, the best way to prevent cavities is to make sure your children are eating a healthy, balanced diet, are brushing with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day for two minutes, and flossing daily.
Dr. Nicole Stoker is a pediatric dentist for The Smile Shop and is a mother of two.