Tooth Decay, Xylitol and the Aging Process

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by Nils Osmar. August 14, 2022. Medical Disclaimer

Having good dental health is essential to overall health as we’re aging. A Harvard Press article: The Aging Mouth and How to Keep it Younger, points out that:

The well-being of your aging mouth is tied to the health of the rest of your body. There’s mounting evidence of an association between gum inflammation and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory problems, all of which are more prevalent in later life.

Scientists postulate that bacteria from gum infections travel through the bloodstream to trigger inflammation in organs and tissues at distant sites.

For diabetes, a disease that afflicts nearly a quarter of Americans over age 60, the cause and effect may go in both directions. Over the years, uncontrolled blood sugar damages the blood vessels that supply the gums, so they become susceptible to infection, which accelerates periodontal disease.

High blood sugar also translates into increased sugar in oral fluids for bacteria to feed on. Conversely, inflammation from oral infection may increase the body’s resistance to insulin, leading to greater difficulty in keeping blood sugar under control.

The heart connection

According to a Mayo Clinic article called Heart Disease Prevention: Does Oral Health Matter:

Gum disease (periodontitis) is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Poor dental health increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the blood stream, which can affect the heart valves.

Conditions like high blood glucose and diabetes can accelerate tooth decay, creating a vicious circle of declining health. Source: Mayo Clinic article: Diabetes and Dental Care

The “collapsed jaw” look – caused by age or disease?

A blog on a dentist’s website makes this interesting observation:

Decades ago, a sunken jaw, thinner lips, sagging facial muscles, and an altered profile were considered just another normal consequence of aging. This “collapsed” look was caused by bone loss in the jaws, especially the mandible, or lower jaw.

Today we know that maintaining size and density in our jawbones is important not only for our appearance, but for better oral health. 

The importance of saliva

  • There are many aspects to maintaining a healthy mouth, gums and teeth. Obviously, hygiene and dental care are important. But a component that is sometimes overlooked, which is actually in our control, is the production of saliva.
  • Producing ample saliva is important both to our digestive processes and to the health of our teeth and gums. Unfortunately, the aging process affects the salivary glands, reducing both the quantity and quality of our saliva.
  • The result is that older adults can suffer from dry mouth, strange tastes in their mouth, and be more likely to lose their teeth, which leads to other deleterious effects.

Xylitol fights tooth decay and increases saliva

  • I noticed about ten years ago that my salivary glands were making less saliva. But I learned that there was a natural compound which could increase it: xylitol. Sprinkling a small amount of xylitol on foods appears to stimulate our production of saliva even if our salivary glands have been damaged.
  • Xylitol also kills the type of bacteria that cause tooth decay and plaque. It kills them by fooling them into thinking it’s a sugar they can consume and live on. They mistake it for a digestible form of sugar, try eating it, are unable to derive energy from it, and die. For this reason, some people brush their teeth with pastes that include saliva. You can also buy pricey mouthwashes which are essentially xylitol in water (with some preservatives added).
  • See article: The effect of xylitol on dental caries and oral flora

How to make your own “mouth rinse” – no water needed

  • If you’d like to try something interesting, put 1-2 teaspoons of dry powdered xylitol in your mouth then “chew it around” for a minute or two. It will stimulate the production of saliva so strongly that in a few minutes, your entire mouth will be filled with saliva.
  • I’ll sometimes do this first thing in the morning. My mouth fills with a mixture saliva and xylitol; I swish it around for a few minutes, pulling it between my teeth (similar to what some people call oil pulling). I then spit it out.
  • This both removes food debris and alkalizes the mouth, creating a healthy non-acidic environment.
  • Xylitol isn’t the only compound that can support good dental health (and rinsing with it isn’t a substitute for dental care of good dental hygiene) but I found it an interesting connection to be aware of.

Not medical advice

Nothing on this website is intended as, or should be take as, medical (or dental) advice.

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