The natural sweetener xylitol has been touted by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry for its effectiveness in reducing cavities in children. Now UAB dental researchers will test its effectiveness in adults through a National of Institutes of Health-funded study.

The School of Dentistry is enrolling adult participants into a study of the natural sweetener xylitol, which has shown great success in reducing cavities in children.

The School of Dentistry is enrolling participants in the study through September. So far, more than 90 people already have filled the available 250 spots for a study that, if proven effective, could have a major impact in preventing tooth decay for millions of adults.

“Xylitol interferes with the bacteria that produce the acid that causes cavities,” says Gregg Gilbert, D.D.S, chair of the Department of Diagnostic Sciences and principal investigator. “If the dissolving mints we’ll be studying work it will be great, because it means they will prevent tooth decay.”

Participants in the study must commit to using five xylitol mints five times a day throughout the three-year course of the study. During the three years, participants will make only five visits to the dental school, two of those coming in the first month. The other three visits come at the end of the first, second and third years.

Study members must be between 21 and 80 years old to participate and have a recent history of tooth decay. Participants in the study will be compensated.

What is xylitol?
UAB is one of three national sites conducting the xylitol trial; the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are the other sites.

Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol derived primarily from forest and agricultural materials. It has been used since the early 1960s in infusion therapy for post-operative, burn and shock patients, in the diet of diabetic patients and as a sweetener in products aimed at improved oral health (such as chewing gum).

Xylitol is FDA-approved and is available over the counter in many forms, such as mints, chewable tablets, lozenges, toothpastes, mouthwashes and cough mixtures. Xylitol chewing gum has been shown to be effective as a preventive agent; however, the usefulness of other xylitol products has not been studied.

An inexpensive, available source of prevention like xylitol could have a revolutionary impact on dental care and dental costs.

Researchers believe xylitol can be effective in a number of ways: It doesn’t feed the plaque-forming bacteria that cause cavities, and it stimulates more saliva.

Sonia Makhija, D.D.S., director of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences, says the clinical trial will consist of two groups: a group that is given the xylitol-containing mints and a placebo group that will receive a different mint. Participants will be randomly placed in one of those groups. Makhija and Gilbert say the participants will not know which group they will be in, but say those enrolled in the placebo group could see positive results.

“Even if you get assigned to the placebo group you stand to benefit because the mints do stimulate saliva, and we know that saliva helps prevent dental decay,” Makhija says. “People with a dry mouth tend to develop more tooth decay.”

Regular dental visits still needed
Gilbert also stresses that if the mints work they won’t eliminate the need for all dental care. Everyone should still see a dentist regularly for routine checkups and cleaning.

“A successful study means the mints will prevent dental decay in adults. It doesn’t mean they would eliminate all problems,” Gilbert says. “This would add to or complement your routine care.”

o learn more about the study or how to enroll, call Andrea Eiring, coordinator for the study at 532-7374.