Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Little Pearly Whites

In tune with National Children's Dental Month, our Finnish playgroup recently had a discussion about the use of xylitol for children to help prevent cavaties and ear infections.

Xylitol, a natural sugar extracted from the birch tree and other sources, has been used in Finland for many years - most popularily in the Jenkki-brand gum. I remember as a child chewing Jenkki and even stuffing our suitcases with it when we visited Finland during the summers. I never wondered why my mom encouraged us to chew it, but now I see.

In Finland, xylitol's ability to impede the development of bacteria which cause cavaties is well known. As a result, children receive xylitol mints or chewing gum in childcare centers after meals. Local Finnish mom's here found it funny that when they sent xylitol in their children's lunch packs, the teachers either objected to the "candy" or refused to make sure that the child ate it at the end of the meal when its most effective.

Its important, however, to use 100% xylitol products to gain the beneficial effects. For example, Trident gum touts xylitol on its packaging, but its just one of many sweetners in the product, some which actual can cause cavaties.

I wish I would have been aware of xylitol's ability to ward off ear infections! A link has been established between pregnant mother's using xylitol and a decreased incidence of ear infections. Even if you missed that chance, xylitol's natural antibiotic property can even help with ear infections in children.

A quick search online, brings up several web-shops that sell xylitol products in the US:

Zellies - where I ordered a batch of mints and gum from. Peanut's been a big fan of the fruit-flavored mints and often requests the mint herself after meals.

Another very helpful piece of information, I'm surprised is also not covered is how infants and toddlers first get the bacteria that causes cavities: usually the source is their parents! I recall in Finland, hearing that you should never taste your baby's food off their spoon before feeding them as it passes the cavity-causing bacteria to them.

In fact, infants are born without the bacteria and can be kept cavity free if you can successfully keep them from getting the bacteria by avoiding transmission from family members. So, no sharing utensils, bites of food, toothbrushes, or other materials that could move bacteria from one to another via salvia.

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