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Sweetener May Prevent Cavities in Toddlers

Sugar Substitute Xylitol Prevents Tooth Decay by Acting as an Antibacterial Agent
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 6, 2009 -- An oral syrup containing a naturally occurring sweetener called xylitol can prevent cavities in toddlers, according to a new study.

Reporting in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, University of Washington researchers say cavities in early childhood are increasing in prevalence, especially in the poor.

But that could change, the authors say, if parents give teething babies and toddlers xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener that also prevents tooth decay by acting as an antibacterial agent against organisms that cause cavities.

“Poor children experience rates (of caries, also known as cavities) twice as high as those of their more affluent peers, and their disease is more likely to be untreated,” the authors write. “Poor oral health affects diet and nutrition and significantly diminishes quality of life. However, tooth decay is a disease that is largely preventable.”

Previous research has shown that chewing gum or lozenges containing xylitol helps prevent tooth decay in permanent teeth, the researchers write.

But they used an oral syrup containing xylitol in their study, which involved 94 participants between 9-15 months of age who live in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where early childhood tooth decay is a serious public health problem.

Two treatment groups received 8 grams of xylitol syrup per day. One group of 33 received their 8 grams of xylitol in two 4 gram doses, and 32 children received 8 grams in three 2.67 gram doses. A control group of 29 young children received one dose of 2.67 grams. Health officials in the Marshall Islands didn’t allow researchers to use a placebo, so the control group received some xylitol.

After an average of 10.5 months, 24.2% of children receiving two xylitol doses (equal to 8 grams) had tooth decay, as did 40.6% of children getting three daily doses (equal to 8 grams). In the control group, 51.7% got tooth decay.

There were fewer decayed teeth on average in the 8 grams per day groups as well. The findings of the two groups getting 8 grams per day were not statistically different.

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