921 children (aged 3-6 years) attending daycare centers in Finland were randomly assigned to receive xylitol chewing gum (one piece, three times a day, each chewed for 5-10 minutes, for a total of 2.5 g/day of xylitol) or to brush their teeth after lunch. The respective treatments were continued for periods of one to three years, with one to four months off during the summers. At age nine years, the proportion of children who were cavity-free was 57% in the xylitol group, compared with 49% in the brushing group (p < 0.05). No significant difference between groups was seen at ages three or seven years.
Comment: These results indicate that regular chewing of xylitol-containing gum is at least as effective as tooth brushing for the prevention of dental caries (or cavities) in children aged 3-6 years. Xylitol is a non-nutritive sweetener that has been demonstrated in several studies to help prevent the development of dental caries. The anti-caries effect of xylitol is presumably related to its capacity to inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a component of mouth flora that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of caries. The beneficial effect of xylitol chewing gum appears to be most pronounced for teeth that erupt after the commencement of gum chewing, as opposed to teeth that are already present when the child starts using the gum. One study has demonstrated that mothers can prevent the development of dental caries in their children by chewing xylitol gum, beginning three months after the birth of the baby until the child is two years old.
Kovari H, et al. Use of xylitol chewing gum in daycare centers: a follow-up study in Savonlinna, Finland. Acta Odontol Scand 2003;61:367-370.
source: Alan R. Gaby
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