Healthy Living: Using Sugar to Prevent Tooth Decay

By Melissa Harmon
Friday August 17, 2007

The bridge in my mouth was bad. The engineer of the bridge was a dentist in a hurry who had already busted a cap in my mouth... so to speak. (one of his crowns had failed ). So I didn’t want to go back to him. Besides, the bad bridge had cost $1,500 back in 1999, and I couldn’t face another dentist who would now charge gangsta prices of $3,000 and up.  

So, I went to the University of the Pacific Dental school. It was as I remember it from more than a decade ago; patiently waiting patients, and lots of infant dentists, serious and helpful and fearfully meticulous.  

So the first thing my student dentist said when he looked at the xray of my bridge with its rotting anchor teeth was that it was built way too high off the gums, letting food get under there... and had I flossed under there every day? Uhh, well, no, I hadn’t. I flossed once in awhile, using that loop of fishing line to thread the floss beneath the bridge, but it was a lot of trouble.  

I had gotten in the habit of using toothpicks, sticking a flat toothpick under the bridge to push out all the detritus. He told me how toothpicks don’t clean the tooth surface at either side or underneath the bridge very well, though they are very useful for massaging the gums between teeth if they aren’t used like crowbars to destabilize crowns.  

But then he asked me if I had heard of xylitol sugar? He was chewing gum at the time; he held the gum blob in his front teeth and showed it to me... “this is xylitol gum”. He said. 

It looked like regular gum to me, sticking out of the front of his perfect grin.  

I told him that sugar had gotten me in trouble in the first place. I used to go trick or treating, come home with a grocery bag full of candy, then sit down and eat all the red candy lipsticks first, then the Tootsie Rolls, the M&M’s next, and on down the line, totally absorbed in sugar. 

He said that xylitol sugar has been shown to drastically slow down or stop tooth decay, that flossing and using xylitol may keep the new bridge from rotting away like the old one.  

I was skeptical; was this dental student being a flack for some bogus remedy? If xylitol really keeps down decay, why hadn’t I heard about it, and why aren’t the toothpaste companies rushing to market it? 

I have to admit, decay isn’t something I want to do. So I went home and searched the net, and found a ton of stuff.  

Xylitol is a natural fruit sugar found in strawberries, raspberries and plums. Studies have shown that beyond a doubt, regular use will prevent cavities. The Texas A&M website: has a comprehensive report on the findings of many reputable studies, and has a long list of them, some by the World Health Organization.  

A study of 4,000 people, showed that xylitol can prevent cavities and that the best way to deliver it is in gum. You have to take from 4.3 to 10 grams per day, and if you get that much every day it will block the growth of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in your mouth, the bacteria responsible for tooth decay.  

Another study showed that ear infections in children can also be blocked by using the gum. This is useful for parents whose children would love to chew a lot of gum during the day. A child’s mother may pass on cavity causing bacteria to her child, and if she uses xylitol regularly, she may protect her child from that bacteria. What a discovery! If my dear Mom had that information, and all my Halloween candy had been made of xylitol, and we had the internet back then... Evolution, it’s happening so fast!  

Right now, I keep a little jar of the sugar in the bathroom and brush my teeth with it. That’s the cheapest way to get the 4-10 grams a day if I brush twice. I did buy some of the gum, and now I chew it several times a day too. At times I dip the already been chewed gum into the sugar jar and chew it again. 

Once in a while I go get the jar from the bathroom, sit down to watch TV, dip my finger in the jar and just eat the sugar. It’s delicious, and good for me too, right? How many calories is half a jelly jar?  

It’ll take years to know if I’ll get any more cavities, and I’m hoping for less rot in other areas as well.