Tooth decay, a preventable condition, is still a problem for billions of people globally. It is a condition that deserves attention in the pursuit of effective treatments. The manufacturers of xylitol have had a great success convincing the public and many professionals in dentistry that xylitol– a natural sweetener- helps prevent tooth decay.

The results of a research project by the Cochrane Oral Health Group and School of Dentistry at the University of Manchester, UK offers reasons to doubt what the manufacturers of xylitol claim.

They found a lack of evidence from the best studies offered by groups with a vested interest in promoting xylitol. The best studies into the tooth decay prevention properties of xylitol, (studies that were controlled and randomized), failed to produce conclusive evidence that xylitol possesses those properties.

The Cochrane group found the quality of the evidence was poor. They believe that the results of these studies suggest fluoride was added to samples tested as xylitol products. Fluoride has a long, documented history of tooth decay prevention. By mixing xylitol with a proven preventer of tooth decay, any claims as to the tooth decay prevention properties of xylitol are made invalid.

Manufacturers have not proven that xylitol prevents tooth decay. They have only proven that xylitol does not retard the ability of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.

Furthermore, the best studies offered were limited to small children, and the best claims they felt confident enough to make was that xylitol reduced the decay of the children’s adult teeth by 13%. Even if this claim is true, there is no reason to assume these results would generalize to other populations.

The Cochrane group isn’t claiming that xylitol is proven not to prevent tooth decay. They only claim that the evidence for its ability to do so is based on incomplete research.

They recommend further, more complete, studies on the effects of xylitol as an oral hygiene product be carried out. Future trials should be randomized, placebo-controlled, and adequately powered to reliably assess the effects of a variety of xylitol related products. These trials should incorporate larger and more varied samples of the population being studied.

Until adequately well designed studies are completed, it would be irresponsible to continue to sell these products to the public under the auspices of xylitol being proven to promote oral health.