Dental hygiene therapies: The value of xylitol

Oct. 1, 2012
Many hygienists are also mothers and, as more men enter the profession, fathers.



Many hygienists are also mothers and, as more men enter the profession, fathers. As we counsel our patients, we can’t help but draw on our own experiences. New mothers often delight in their baby and find it irresistible to chat about their baby’s issues, toddler’s achievements, etc. So during the time we see our new parent patients, we hygienists are included as members of their “new parent tribe.”

So I’d like to share information about Xylitol education. We have a unique moment in cognitive time that I like to call The Sweet Spot. The new parent tribe receives and absorbs information eagerly, and we need to aim for their sweet spot regarding Xylitol and their children.

We hygienists find ourselves frequently at the forefront of oral health trends. Xyltiol has been an emerging influence in oral health in the U.S. for the last 10 years, but has really made it into the common vernacular of preventive practice recommendations in the last three to four years.

Until now, Xylitol studies have concentrated on the group of gum-chewing marauders known as “school age” children ages five to 12. One study indicates that mints are not effective in adults, but the research regarding chewing gum remains strong.

What if I told you that the research regarding Xylitol directly wiped into infants’ mouths at very low doses after feeding inhibits the formation of early childhood caries (ECC)? Most recently, a study at the University of California San Francisco using Xylitol infant wipes (unit-dosed in several flavors) showed remarkable results. For the new moms or dads in your practice, this information will be of utmost importance.

The study by Ling Zahn, DDS, PhD, and her team of researchers found that Xylitol could prevent cavities in infants. Infants whose gums were wiped daily with Xylitol at about 4.8 grams per day had nearly eight times fewer dental caries after one year than those who used wipes without Xylitol. This study will be published in the Journal of Dental Research later this year.

“We are seeing that the effect of Xylitol in the first year of life has played an important role to reduce caries in the growing child,” said Dr. Zhan. “Research to date cannot explain Xylitol’s effect in the developing oral cavity. We have a lot to learn from this exciting result.”

This should be the meat of our message to new parents. We now know that we have a vehicle that’s effective at preventing cavities in our youngest population. This information should be passed along in CEs and as practice standards in an effort to reduce ECC, especially since the ADA recommends children visit the dentist by age one. This time frame is critical because we now know that bacterial colonization seems to rev up upon tooth eruption, and steadily increases.

Of course there are obstacles to this good, albeit unrealized recommendation that are obvious to new parents, such as squirming, screaming babies, to name just one. And as oral health-care providers, we have challenges serving this new parent tribe. First, parents may lack awareness about ECC. Second, some parents believe that deciduous teeth are not important! (I know; I can’t believe it either.)

Those of us who work in pediatric dental offices know the first teeth are of utmost importance. Deciduous teeth are crucial for proper nutrition and development of normal speech, and whatever happens to the deciduous puts the permanent at risk. How do we make new parents aware of all this without making them worry? By giving them the good news that ECC is preventable.

Parents may not know that babies are not born with bacteria in their mouths, and that strep mutans become part of baby’s biofilm and can quickly outnumber “good” bacteria, populating the oral flora and causing an advantage that often results in caries.

They may not know that ECC is the most common childhood disease. The numbers are staggering — it is three times more prevalent than obesity, and five times more prevalent than asthma. Children in poverty are at a particularly high risk.

Increasing awareness by educating providers is at the top of the list of how to help curb this disease. The hygiene community should be on alert for educational opportunities, product introductions, and outreach tools, such as the new website introduced by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry called mychildrensteeth.org, a user-friendly resource for parents and caregivers that want more information. We’re at the helm of this ship, and our responsibility lies in educating our patients.

Our responsibility to the youngest population is to build a tribe with our patients and our profession. Use of Xylitol in infants can shift the caries balance of children in a positive direction. The tribe we want to see grow and flourish is the ECC-FREE tribe.

Good ideas are worth spreading, and this is a very good idea. RDH

BRIDGET CONWAY, BA, RDH, works with VOCO America as the Northern New England Clinical Consultant. During June of 2010 she worked with business guru Seth Godin as part of a team of 10 people selected to organize a seminar in Boston. In addition to clinical hygiene, her interests are organizational behavior, dental relationship marketing, and building company culture. Bridget is active in the Maine Dental Hygienists’ Association, and she authored a continuing education course on Innovative Enamel Therapies, as well as other subjects, for PennWell. Bridget credits her attendance at the January 2008 Career Fusion as her lift-off point in career development. Join Bridget at The Dental Tribe on Facebook.

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