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How Xylitol Helps Balance the Oral Microbiome

Xylitol is a  sugar substitute that has been a source of controversy for some time. It is considered a healthier option than sucrose (table sugar), but does that mean consumption of xylitol is healthy? Well, it is a FODMAP, which can increase bloating in some (among other things). Still, that is not a universal effect. Others could significantly benefit from xylitol and studies reveal that dental consequences are surprisingly positive.

What is the Oral Microbiome?

The oral microbiome is the ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms residing in our mouths. Found within our biofilms, it is crucial to human health. It creates a balance between our bodies and the world, keeping us healthy. It is a field of ecology being continuously studied with a promising future, showing more and more effects related to both oral and systemic diseases.

Imbalances in this microbial community lead to poorer states of health. For example, tooth decay likely occurs when there is an imbalance of dental plaque bacteria found within the oral microbiota. Without healthy teeth to chew our food, it would be difficult to digest it. There are also bacteria in the mouth that can lead to things like ear infections when overgrown.

Xylitol aids oral hygiene and helps balance the oral microbiome, keeping away ear infections emerging from unbalanced amounts of bacteria in our mouth, as studies have shown us.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a polyalcohol, or sugar alcohol (polyol), found in many fruits and veggies, often extracted from corn and birchwood. It is sweet but contains far fewer calories than sugar and has nearly the opposite effect when interacting with our dental health.

Meaning it does not impact blood sugar levels the way sugar does and is considered a low-digestible carbohydrate (meaning it takes its sweet time breaking down).

As a side noteit is not something you want your dog to eat (if you brush your dog’s teeth). When humans ingest it or chew xylitol gum, it does not stimulate insulin release. But for a dog, a dangerous amount of insulin is released. That severely lowers your pup’s blood sugar, and even a little bit could be fatal.

For humans, Xylitol can also be a laxative (which is only a bad thing if it catches you by surprise).

The Effect of Xylitol

In large amounts, the laxative effects of xylitol make it pretty effective for loosening stool and bloating. Although some might see an increase in bloating (because it is a FODMAP), we could also see an increase in collagen synthesis. That would help to bolster bone density and skin strength.

Even with skin health benefits, we need to remember that it kills bacteria and does not break down the same way sugar does. The substance travels deep into our bodies before it fully processes (which is why people who suffer from IBS avoid FODMAPs). It also means a few things for the bacteria in our bodies.

The amount of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria a person has been affected even from a one-time consumption.

Studies suggest that more Gram-positive bacteria are detected post xylitol consumption than Gram-negative. (Gram-negative is a type of bacteria considered more dangerous and is harder to kill than Gram-positive bacteria).

For someone suffering from sepsis, Gram-negative bacteria are the main culprits working against the body.

Xylitol could also wind up keeping the body healthy in cases of overgrown candida.

Excess candida leads to a host of issues (such as a fungal invasion of the bones, heart, brain, and blood). Xylitol can help kill the excess yeast to keep it from hurting our bodies. It is the reason xylitol frequently pops up in anti-candida recipes. Xylitol cuts down on the bacteria overgrowth in biofilms in the oral cavity as well, helping combat gum disease.

Xylitol targets s. mutans (streptococcus mutans). This strain takes xylitol into the cell to be metabolized into a phosphate, becoming toxic to bacteria. Amazingly, the positive bacteria we want to keep in our guts seemed to be relatively unaffected, according to studies done using xylitol and sorbitol chewing gum. That means our probiotics are safe while harmful microbes have less prevalence.

How Xylitol Effects our Teeth

This sweetener could prove healthier for some than others. For some, the FODMAP aspect of it could make it harder to digest. For others, it could save them from overgrown candida running amuck throughout the body and help keep lesions and periodontal disease (periodontitis) away.

The main benefits studied have more to do with dental hygiene. And since we usually don’t eat toothpaste, that puts xylitol on the healthy side of the scale for most. 

Bacteria in the Mouth

Plaque bacteria does not metabolize xylitol, making it an effective agent against the build-up of plaque and other oral bacteria. Sugar and other sugar alcohols contribute to a less alkaline environment in the mouth. That allows acidic conditions to increase and bad bacteria (plaque bacteria) to grow. Then issues like tooth decay and demineralization occur more often, replacing healthy teeth with cavity-riddled ones.

Xylitol, on the other hand, does not undergo fermentation. It decreases these acidic conditions and does not feed the harmful bacteria growing in them. Rather, it eliminates those bacteria and reduces their incidence by not giving them any food to grow. And it also helps wash out harmful bacteria by stimulating salivary flow.

How Saliva Helps the Mouth

Saliva can reduce the risk of dental caries (cavities). When saliva production is stimulated, it's a natural mouthwash ridding bad bacteria and other troublemakers. It comes with a few more positive effects as well, including remineralizing.

Saliva can flood acids and neutralize them. At the same time, it protects the teeth by adding a barrier filled with minerals our bodies can harness to remineralize the teeth.

Since xylitol stimulates saliva production, it’s a great tool for cleaning out plaque and strengthening teeth. Paired with other ingredients, such as hydroxyapatite (a biocompatible remineralizing agent we use in our toothpaste), xylitol’s effects are only enhanced.

While other substances can increase saliva production, they don’t have the same reduced risk for dental caries or effectiveness against bad bacteria in the mouth. Although it has been controversial as a sweetener for consumption, Xylitol is an extremely helpful dental hygiene tool we think worth using to help strengthen tooth enamel and aid our immune systems.

But the Source Matters

Most xylitol comes from genetically modified corn, meaning it is also genetically modified. We avoid anything modified, sticking to the cleanest, natural forms for our bodies to interact with. That means the safe way to source xylitol is from birchwood, rather than corn.

We’re careful in our sourcing for our products, only using xylitol from birchwood in our Whitening ToothpasteIt synergistically works with the other ingredients (like hydroxyapatite and green tea) to eliminate harmful bacteria, increase saliva production, and bolster the strength of our teeth during the remineralization process.

Xylitol and the other ingredients in our toothpaste help the body protect itself naturally and directly impact oral health, keeping our microbiome balanced and healthy.

With every brush, you’re strengthening your teeth and the ecosystem protecting them.

Resources

Salminen S, Salminen E, Koivistoinen P, Bridges J, Marks V. Gut microflora interactions with xylitol in the mouse, rat, and man. Food Chem Toxicol. 1985 Nov;23(11):985-90. DOI: 10.1016/0278-6915(85)90248-0. PMID: 4076932.

Bahador, A., Lesan, S., & Kashi, N. (2012). Effect of xylitol on cariogenic and beneficial oral streptococci: a randomized, double-blind crossover trial. Iranian Journal of Microbiology4(2), 75–81.

Söderling E. (2009). Controversies around Xylitol. European journal of dentistry3(2), 81–82.

Alexandraki, I., & Palacio, C. (2010). Gram-negative versus Gram-positive bacteremia: what is more alarmin(g)?. Critical care (London, England)14(3), 161. https://doi.org/10.1186/cc9013

Mäkinen KK. Sugar alcohol sweeteners as alternatives to sugar with special consideration of xylitol. Med Princ Pract. 2011;20(4):303-20. DOI: 10.1159/000324534. Epub 2011 May 11. PMID: 21576989.

Mattila PT, Pelkonen P, Knuuttila ML. Effects of a long-term dietary xylitol supplementation on collagen content and fluorescence of the skin in aged rats. Gerontology. 2005 May-Jun;51(3):166-9. DOI: 10.1159/000083988. PMID: 15832042.

VCA Animal Hospitals: Xylitol Safety in Dogs

Wells, K. (2020, May 22). Xylitol: Is it Healthy or Safe?: Wellness Mama. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://wellnessmama.com/12614/xylitol-healthy/

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