Creepin' Cavities, Batman! A Candy That Fights Tooth Decay!

Posted on: 30 April 2015


The dentist emerges into the waiting room after giving your children their semi-annual checkups and tells you that they have cavities. This is frustrating to you, as you try to make sure your kids brush and floss daily. Beyond your feelings, fillings can be painful or anxiety-producing for your children, as the process can be a little intimidating. Can you avoid this in the future? Or do you need just to accept that your kids are cavity-prone?  There is new evidence that cavity development can be reversed and even prevented--from a quite unlikely source. Believe it or not, the answer to children's cavities just might be candy!

Cavity causes

Cavities are visible damage to your children's teeth caused by the wear and tear of plaque. Plaque, a filmy substance created by the combination of the saliva in your kids' mouths and the debris of food they've eaten, coats their teeth. If they do not soon brush it away, the trouble begins. Plaque is filled with bacteria, which actively eat away at the surface of the teeth. Over time, this bacteria erodes tooth enamel away and begins wearing holes inside the teeth called cavities.

Cavities are, unfortunately, quite common among children. Statistics from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) show that 42% of kids between 2 and 11 years of age have cavities. Twenty-three percent of these kids, on average, have not received treatment for their cavities. Children with cavities average 1.6 decayed teeth--meaning there are complications from the untreated caries--and 3.6 decayed tooth surfaces per person. Black and Hispanic children, as well as children from low-income families, experience the greatest number of cavities and the most severe decay.

Cavity consequences

What is awaiting these children with untreated cavities? If cavities are not filled, complications arise, such as

  • toothaches

  • infections

  • cracked or broken teeth

  • difficulty chewing

In addition, because baby teeth can fall out prematurely due to severe cavities, tooth positioning can drift and permanent teeth erupt out of alignment, leading to the need for orthodontic treatment.

When cavities cause infections or cracked teeth, dental restorations such as root canals and crowns become necessary to prevent their loss. These procedures can be very difficult for children.

Cavity candy?

Onto this scene of dental wreckage enters...candy? It's surprisingly true. Dentists have found that sugarless candy, made with an ingredient called xylitol, is helpful in reversing tooth decay. Xylitol, a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in birch trees, prevents cavities from forming. It is low-calorie and mimics the taste of sugar.

Xylitol works to reduce the erosion of tooth enamel this way:

  • Xylitol cannot be processed by the type of bacteria that causes cavities.

  • The bacteria, therefore, produce fewer of the acidic byproducts that are toxic to tooth enamel.

  • The bacteria eventually "starve," leading to fewer cavity-causing germs in the mouth.

The strains of bacteria remaining in the mouth, which are resistant to xylitol, have a more difficult time adhering to teeth surfaces. Therefore, the plaque composition present in the mouth after xylitol treatment is less likely to cause decay.

After an extensive review of 71 articles citing 65 clinical trials (both randomized and nonrandomized), the American Dental Association (ADA) gave xylitol its blessing. The ADA suggests dentists recommend to their young patients that they chew polyol (a sweetener of which xylitol is one type) gum or suck on xylitol candy for about 20 minutes after meals to prevent cavities.

You don't want to neglect the tried and true basics of good dental care; make sure your kids brush twice a day, floss daily, and see the dentist twice a year at a clinic like Dentistry For Children & Adolescents. You should also limit sugary treats such as chocolate and soda. However, investing in xylitol candy and gum gives you an extra weapon in the cavity crime fight.