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Sweetener May Cut Cavities in Kids

Daily doses of a sweetened syrup could keep very young kids from developing cavities .

Dental researchers at the University of Washington have found that toddlers who are given two or three daily spoonfuls of the sugar substitute xylitol in a fruit-flavored syrup have significantly lower rates of tooth decay than other children.

Researchers presented their results today at the 86th General Session of the International Association for Dental Research in Toronto.

The study involved 102 children with an average age of 15 months who lived in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Childhood tooth decay is a serious health concern in that central Pacific region. Study authors say the average 5-year-old living there has two to three times as many cavities as a young child living in a typical mainland community.

The children randomly received different doses of the sweetened syrup once, twice, or three times a day for 12 months. At the end of the trial, nearly 76% of the toddlers who received twice-daily doses of xylitol syrup (8 grams in total) were cavity-free, compared to 48% of those who received a single spoonful a day.

More than half (59.4%) of the children who received xylitol three times a day were cavity-free after a year.

"The largest difference in decayed teeth was seen in the twice-daily dosing group," the researchers write in their meeting abstract.

It's a finding that's sure to have some parents scratching their heads, wondering how something sweet -- what we often blame for cavities --- could be good for the teeth.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener that's found in plants and fruits. It is a sugar alcohol. According to the FDA, sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay. Studies suggest that xylitol blocks the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities.

The FDA considers xylitol "generally safe" and has approved its use as a food additive for many decades. Today the sweetener can be found in sugar-free gum, mints, and toothpaste .

By Kelli Stacy
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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