In the 1980s, artificial sweeteners in blue and pink packets, diet soda and sugar-free gum set the standard as “healthy” alternatives to their sugar-laden counterparts. Today, there’s another sweetener called xylitol touting sweet-as-sugar taste that is low in calories. A natural sweetener found in plants and fruits, xylitol was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1986 as a food additive. But, now it is appearing in sugar-free gum, mints and toothpaste. And, you’ll be happy to know, studies show chewing sugar-free gum after meals is great for oral hygiene.

Research confirms that of all factors studied, xylitol most likely inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the oral bacteria that causes cavities, according to a study in the General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed publication of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

The chewing of sugarless gum increases the flow of saliva, which washes away food and other debris, neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth and provides disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth. Increased saliva flow also carries with it more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel.Of course, chewing sugar-containing gum increases saliva flow too, but it also contains sugar which is used by plaque bacteria to produce decay-causing acids.

Here are three tips for a sugar-free mouth:

  1. Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy; children can keep travel-size products in lockers or backpacks, and adults should keep a spare pair at work.
  2. Chew sugarless gum, with or without xylitol, after meals or snacks when unable to brush.
  3. Drink water throughout the day to help cleanse teeth of excess bacteria.

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