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How Xylitol Helps to Balance the Oral Microbiome

How Xylitol Helps to Balance the Oral Microbiome featured image

Xylitol, a sugar substitute, has been a source of controversy for some time. It is considered a healthier option than sucrose (table sugar), but has some reported adverse side effects, such as increased bloating and other digestive upsets. On the other hand, some could significantly benefit from xylitol and studies reveal that it can positively impact our dental health. 

What is the Oral Microbiome?

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

An imbalance in this oral microbiome can lead to conditions such as tooth decay or weakening of our gum tissues.  Without strong teeth, our food will not be adequately chewed to the point where it could be easily digested and utilized.

In addition, an imbalance of bacteria in the mouth can lead to conditions 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. It does not impact blood sugar levels the way sugar does and is considered a low-digestible carbohydrate (meaning it takes its time breaking down).

As a side note: it is not something you want your dog to consume (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, xylitol releases a dangerous amount of insulin. That severely lowers your dog's blood sugar, and even a little bit could be fatal.

The Effect of Xylitol

For humans, xylitol can also be a laxative (which is only a bad thing if it catches you by surprise). 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 increased collagen synthesis, which would help 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 as sugar. The substance travels deep into our bodies before it is fully processed.  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 more challenging 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 keep 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 to 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. 

How Xylitol Effects our Teeth

The main benefits of xylitol studied have more to do with dental hygiene

Plaque bacteria do not metabolize xylitol, making it an effective agent against any build-up 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. Issues like tooth decay and demineralization will 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. With a lack of food, it eliminates those bacteria and reduces their incidence. 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). As saliva production is stimulated, it becomes a natural mouthwash eliminating 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 an excellent tool for cleaning out plaque and strengthening teeth. When paired with other ingredients, such as hydroxyapatite (a remineralizing agent we use in our toothpaste), xylitol’s effects are greatly enhanced.

While other substances can increase saliva production, they don’t offer the same reduced risk for dental cavities or effectiveness against harmful bacteria in the mouth. Although it has been controversial as a sweetener for consumption, xylitol is a beneficial 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, but this does not meet our high standards of sourcing. At Wellnesse, we only use the cleanest, natural ingredients, and the xylitol in our Whitening Toothpaste is from birchwood. It synergistically works with the other ingredients (like hydroxyapatite and green tea) to eliminate harmful bacteria, increase saliva production, and strengthen our teeth.

Xylitol and the other ingredients in our toothpaste directly impact our oral health, keeping our microbiome balanced and healthy.

With every brush, you are 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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