Xylitol: A Mouth’s Best Friend?

Having a serious sweet tooth can mean bad news for your dental health. But your dentist in Boerne has a little secret that can allow you to satisfy your desire for something sweet and benefit your oral health at the same time. It’s true! This special sugar substitute is called xylitol, and it’s pretty powerful.    

A Closer Look at Xylitol

While you may be familiar with the name xylitol, it’s benefits are far and plenty, and not many people know exactly what it can do for our bodies and oral health. First, xylitol is a sugar substitute, but unlike other sugar substitutes, xylitol is natural. It’s found in both vegetables and fruits as well as in our bodies. Second, xylitol tastes like sugar and looks like sugar, but it certainly doesn’t act like sugar. Xylitol has fewer calories than sugar, which can help maintain weight or assist in weight loss. Xylitol also has a low glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t cause spikes in blood glucose the way that sugar does. These two things alone make xylitol a pretty solid substitute for sugar. But your dentist in Boerne wants you to know that while xylitol can certainly help overall health, it can protect teeth, too.  

How Does It Work?

In short, xylitol helps eliminate bad bacteria from the mouth, thus decreasing the chances of the bacteria wreaking havoc and causing decay. Let’s take a closer look at how xylitol does this. 

One of the most common “bad bacteria” found in the mouth is something called Streptococcus mutans. Streptococcus mutans is the bacteria responsible for plaque buildup and decay. Now, these bacteria love to feed on sugar. In turn, sugar gives the bacteria energy and allows them to multiply. Basically, the more sugar we eat, the more powerful we make Streptococcus mutans, and the more likely it is that we’ll suffer from tooth decay. However, what makes xylitol so great is that while the bacteria will still eat it, it doesn’t fuel them. Instead, xylitol actually starves the bacteria. In fact, xylitol can effectively lower bacteria levels, sometimes by up to 75%. 

Xylitol Gum

Perhaps the most common place to find xylitol is in certain chewing gums. This is great news for your oral health because not only does the act of chewing gum help stimulate saliva production (more on that in a bit), but chewing xylitol gum also provides all benefits offered by xylitol.  

As we mentioned, chewing gum produces more saliva. But is more spit actually a good thing? Yes! You see, saliva helps wash away bacteria and neutralize acids in the mouth. This further protects teeth from enamel erosion and decay. Additionally, saliva helps remineralize teeth with calcium and phosphate, making them stronger over time.

 
Now, even though xylitol is beneficial to oral health, it doesn’t replace good oral hygiene. It’s still (and forever will be) important to brush and floss your teeth every day. That, along with maintaining regular visits to your dentist in Boerne, is a recipe for a happy, healthy smile.

Can Asthma Inhalers Cause Oral Health Problems?

According to the CDC, 1 in 13 Americans has asthma. That’s nearly 25 million Americans who have this chronic disease that affects the respiratory system, resulting in difficulty breathing, wheezing, and chest pain. The most common treatment to combat the symptoms of asthma is the use of an inhaler. However, these devices full of life-saving medication may cause some oral health problems. During this Asthma Awareness Month, your dentist in Boerne wants to help by sharing some ways that asthma patients may be at an increased risk for certain oral health conditions, and how they can reduce that risk. 

Dry Mouth

Most asthma patients feel shortness of breath and as if they can’t get enough air by breathing through their noses. As a result, it’s incredibly common for asthma sufferers to breathe out of their mouths instead. Mouth breathing over a prolonged period of time can cause the mouth to dry out — often appropriately referred to as dry mouth. Certain asthma medications may also cause dry mouth. Dry mouth is an uncomfortable condition that’s concerning for your dentist in Boerne. When a mouth is dry, it means there’s not enough saliva being produced. Without saliva, bacteria and acids in the mouth can lead to tooth decay, as well as other concerns. 

Bad Breath

If dry mouth is left untreated, patients may also experience bad breath in addition to an increased risk of decay. If bacteria are left alone to flourish and multiply in the mouth, the patient will begin to have bad breath.  

Gum Disease

Another common result of untreated dry mouth, whether in an asthma patient or not, is gum disease. A dry mouth allows plaque to build up, which can certainly contribute to tooth decay and cavities, but this plaque can also start to work its way into the gum tissue causing inflammation, recession, and gum disease. Gum disease is a serious condition that requires early treatment intervention or it will continue to get worse. Untreated gum disease isn’t a condition that affects only the mouth. In fact, it can increase the chance of heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancers

What To Do

Asthma patients who also have dry mouth are at increased risk of decay, bad breath, and gum disease. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things they can do to limit the risk of developing those conditions. Some ways asthma patients can combat dry mouth, and the risks that go along with it, include:

  • Drinking Enough Water. Most health professionals recommend drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses every day to help keep your body hydrated. Your dentist in Boerne agrees. Keeping your body hydrated also means your mouth is staying hydrated and is able to rinse away dangerous bacteria and acids. 
  • Swishing With Water. Those who notice a dry mouth after taking their asthma medication can, and should, rinse their mouths out with water immediately afterward. A quick swish and spit with water can help remove any of the dry mouth-causing ingredients, decreasing the likelihood of experiencing dry mouth. 
  • Chewing Sugarless Gum. Chewing anything automatically kick-starts saliva production because the body thinks we’re eating and are getting ready to swallow food. Saliva helps us pass food down our esophagus as well as helps break down food particles for easier digestion. Chewing gum will trigger the body to produce saliva, thus decreasing dry mouth. 
  • Talking With Your Dentist. Asthma patients should communicate their health history and any underlying health conditions such as asthma to their dentist in Boerne. Not only can this help your dental team customize treatment, but it also makes them aware of things you may be at increased risk of, such as dry mouth, decay, bad breath, and gum disease so they can treat any problems early. 

Your dental team is dedicated to the health of each of our patients. If you have questions about how asthma may affect oral health, or if you’re suffering from dry mouth, give us a call. We’re happy to help any way we can.