A cheap, effective, and tasty way to a healthier mouth

23 10 2016

Like 47% of people age 30 and over, I have been struggling with gingivitis for the last few years.  I attribute it in part to lots of long bike rides (repeatedly eating and drinking sugar and drying out the mouth with increased breathing), and past periods of negligence relative to US dental care guidelines.  If you’re free of gingivitis, but suffer from cavities, leaky fillings, or weak teeth, there are several ideas for you as well.  I have used some conventional treatments and suggestions from the dentist, but wasn’t satisfied with the progress and did a bunch more reading, including this book.  The book title is over the top, but I learned a lot from the mix of research and clinical experience.

In terms of my personal experience, this is still tentative because I’ve been using it for just 1 week.  But, given all that I’ve read and the first week of experience, xylitol is a very attractive potential solution!  Awesome enough to resurrect an 8-year-old blog.  I can already feel my mouth is cleaner and plaque is slower to form.  Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, with the following structure:


It has a sweet taste, much like table sugar (sucrose), but actually makes your mouth healthier by reducing the acidity.  It does have calories, but about 40% fewer per gram than table sugar, and it does not spike your blood sugar like sucrose.  At a recommended dose of 6 to 10 grams per day, you’re only looking at a maximum of ~25 calories.  By now many people are familiar with the microbiome and how some bacteria are good for us an others are bad.  Xylitol helps reduce acidity of the mouth, which favors the healthy bacteria.  I read about it first from some other people who had success with it, but given how long it took me to learn about this, I think it needs more publicity!  One reason you might not have heard about it is because it’s generic and inexpensive (under $6/lb here as of this writing).  That’s good, except it means that there is little incentive for big drug companies to fund studies of its efficacy.  That’s why we still need to fund basic science 🙂

Is there a clinical study?

Thankfully, yes!  This study compared chewing gum treatments (including no gum, xylitol gum, sorbitol gum, and sucrose gum).  Sucrose gum increased the caries rate by roughly 20% (consistent with typical dentist recommendations not to use sugar gum), sorbitol gum reduced it by roughly 25%, and xylitol gum reduced it by over 70%.  Not all sugar alcohols are created equal!

This study, found that within 8 weeks, the amount of Streptococcus mutans (SM) in plaque was reduced by chewing gum with 6 g/day of xylitol, with p<0.01 for just 12 study participants.  However, in that time period, there was not a significant change in the amount of SM in saliva.  According to Wikipedia, “Along with S. sobrinus, S. mutans plays a major role in tooth decay, metabolizing sucrose to lactic acid.”  Sorbitol gum showed no significant effects in the same study.

For gingivitis and periodontal disease, I didn’t immediately see such strong evidence that xylitol is as powerful as it is for cavity prevention.  A study of 28 individuals testing chewing gums did show a decrease in gingival inflammation for xylitol gum, but it did not meet the p<0.05 threshold for statistical significance.  Another study found that chlorhexidine acetate/xylitol gum was effective at reducing both gingival inflammation and plaque.  In that study, gum with xylitol alone significantly reduced plaque but did not have a significant effect on gingival inflammation.

So what’s the regimen?

There are a few options:

  1. Cheapest option: take about 0.25–0.5 tsp. of crystalline xylitol many times per day.  Shortly after you put it in your mouth (dry), you will produce a lot of saliva, and you can swish it in your mouth for around 90 seconds, then swallow.  My goal is 6 times per day.  I’ve been doing it first thing when I get up, after breakfast (several minutes before brushing teeth), and before and after other meals whenever possible.  At less than $6/lb, you’re looking at under 2.5¢ per dose, 15¢ per day, or $4.50/month.  A lot cheaper than just about any treatment you can imagine at the dentist.  Plus, you’ll be getting some benefits even at half the dosage.
  2. More convenient: if you don’t want to find out what your coworkers will think when you put some white crystalline powder in your mouth multiple times per day, you can go with xylitol chewing gum or xylitol mints.  You pay a little bit more per gram of xylitol, but you avoid looking like a you have a drug problem.
  3. Or, you can do #1 at home and #2 in public for the best of both worlds.

Is it safe?

In this study, participants consumed up to 430 grams (0.94 lb)  of xylitol in one day with no apparent ill effects.  Do not feed it to pets, however.  Like chocolate and various other things enjoyed by humans, some pets can be harmed by xylitol.

How do I know I’m not just getting duped into buying expensive table sugar?

I wondered this myself.  Xylitol looks just like regular sugar and tastes very similar, but you can verify that it isn’t by melting it in a spoon over boiling water.  I did it over the spout of a tea kettle.  Xylitol melts at 92 to 96°C, sucrose doesn’t melt (in air at least), but decomposes at 186°C.  Xylose melts at 144 to 145°C.

Want to know more?

If xylitol is enough of an adventure for you, you can stop here, but if you are still intrigued, here are some more of Ellie Phillips, DDS’s recommendations:

  • Don’t brush immediately after having acidic food (such as soda, lemon or orange juice, or sour foods).  Your mouth is acidic and your teeth are soft right after consuming such things.  Better to first neutralize the acid with some xylitol gum, mints, or crystalline powder as described above.
  • Rinse with water or Closys before brushing (I have not tried this personally).
  • Disinfect/clean your toothbrush daily to avoid reinfecting your mouth with those unfriendly flora you’re trying to eliminate.  You can use Listerine for this.
  • Brush with some simple toothpaste without whitening agents or excessive abrasives. Crest regular cavity protection with no extras is a favorite of Dr. Phillips.  This agrees with my dentist’s recommendation.
  • Do some research so you know what you’re risking if you really want to whiten your teeth.  Whitening toothpastes make your teeth more porous and abrade some of the protective enamel.  Some can be very harmful to gums as well.  If you follow the whole regimen, Dr. Phillips claims your teeth will get naturally stronger and whiter (and not an artificial chemical white), but the results will take longer.  Perhaps 6–12 months.
  • After brushing, rinse with a antiseptic rinse such as Listerine, and then, a third rinse (counting the water or Closys as #1), preferably 0.05% sodium fluoride, such as ACT.  Do not rinse with water after the fluoride rinse.  The order is important because the Listerine can dry out the mouth (saliva is an important protectant for the mouth), and a fluoride rinse does the most good (remineralizing the teeth, meaning strengthening your enamel) when it is left on the teeth for a long time.
  • All of this, especially the fluoride and xylitol products, should help make your teeth stronger, so:
    • teeth are less likely to crack and wear as you age,
    • fillings are less likely to leak and need to be repaired,
    • new cavities are less likely to form,
    • small existing soft spots or early cavities can sometimes even re-harden and not need a filling.

USB Hard Drive Woes…Fixed!

2 12 2008

For the past week or so, my Seagate USB 2.0 external 500 GB hard drive would not mount when I plugged it in to my Mac.  It showed up in Disk Utility, and when I ran “Repair Disk” in the First Aid tab, it said “Invalid content in Journal” and never actually repaired the problem after running several times.  I searched Google and found this page which told me exactly what I needed.

The line of code I executed was this:

/System/Library/Filesystems/hfs.fs/hfs.util -N /dev/disk2s1

where you might need to change “disk2s1” to something else. If you don’t know whether you need “disk2s1” or something else, select the problem volume in Disk Utility and do an Apple-I for get info.

Afterwards, I was able to mount the drive, repair it successfully using Disk Utility, then re-enable journaling (select the volume and hit Apple-J in Disk Utility) and repair it again for good measure. Things appear to be working well now.

Shell ‘Clearing the Air’ 60 Second Ad

14 07 2008

I saw this commercial on TV and thought you Chem Es out there might like it . . .

Ruby on Rails on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

5 01 2008

I know almost nothing about programming/coding for the web (basic HTML only) and I’m trying to get my feet wet. I am running Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and wanted to try out Ruby on Rails since I learned of its supposed simplicity. I agree it is simple to use, but I still got hung up in trying to find tutorials as a starting point, in part because the ones I found were for Rails 1.x syntax, whereas I wanted to develop on 2.x.

There are a number of tutorials out there that I found helpful. The most useful one comes from Akita on Rails, posted December 12, 2007. The tutorial comes from Akita’s screencast, which is full of good information, but a bit fast to follow for newbies like me.

The following is a direct parallel to Akita‘s work, but I have omitted some details to make for a very quick tutorial for newbies. Follow along to make a very basic to-do list web application.

After installing MySQL Community Server 5.0.45 for x86 (package format, link) and starting the daemon, do the following in the directory where you want your first app to reside:

Create the directory structure for the app by typing:
$ rails todo

Edit the “development” section of config/database.yml to read the following (assuming you are using the root user with no password for local database access). TextMate is recommended because it shows the directory structure so you can easily edit multiple files in a directory tree.

adapter: mysql
database: todo_development
username: root
socket: /tmp/mysql.sock

Let rake (Ruby counterpart of “make”) create the SQL databases for you:
$ rake db:create:all
Make the skeleton (or “scaffold”) of the app (all one line):
$ script/generate scaffold task title:string description:text complete:boolean
Use rake to complete the migration:
$ rake db:migrate
Start the server:
$ script/server
Now you should be able to navigate to http://localhost:3000/tasks and add entries to the to do list. Notice that the path is the plural of name of the scaffold you created.

If I get my act together, I will post a quick tutorial for installing Ruby on Rails and MySQL soon.