A naturally occurring alcohol found in plant materials, xylitol is sweet hence why it is commonly used as a sugar substitute. However, it contains 40% less calories than sugar! So why would we include a sugar substitute in toothpaste? Read on to find out…
Bacteria in the mouth usually feed on glucose (another type of sugar) from food, then produces lactic acid that damages tooth enamel, leading to cavities. One such bacteria could be Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans), which is the main contributor to tooth decay and enamel breakdown.
Unlike sugar, xylitol does not convert into acid in the mouth. With xylitol, bacteria will still take it but cannot process it, meaning no lactic acid is produced. Since there is no lactic acid, there is no damage to the enamel. At the same time, the bacteria is unable to take any more glucose so after a while, the bacteria dies due to starvation. Xylitol had interfered with the bacteria’s energy production processes. Xylitol reduces levels of decay-causing bacteria in saliva which makes it the ideal alternative to fluoride in toothpaste!
Hopefully by now, it would make sense why a ‘sweetener’ is added to toothpaste. As you just read, xylitol is not a normal sweetener. Having xylitol in toothpaste helps provide a protective layer on the teeth, so that bacteria is unable to attach. This prevents damage from happening. It is especially useful for young children who have not learnt to spit out toothpaste. As a natural sweetener, xylitol is safe if accidentally ingested. Therefore, toothpaste with xylitol is the preferred option for toddlers to start brushing their teeth with, until they get the hang of spitting out toothpaste when they have finished brushing their teeth.