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Xylitol: Sweet trend or real cavity blocker?

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Sugar alcohol and popular food additives can reduce acid-producing bacteria that lead to tooth decay

At first glance, the claim that a sweetener extracted from the bark of birch trees can prevent the formation of cavities may seem far-fetched. This cannot be true, some may argue. Sugar causes tooth decay.

They're not just wrong: the sweet active ingredient xylitol from birch trees prevents tooth decay. But they're doubly wrong because they block acid-producing bacteria in the mouth – the real cause of tooth decay, not sugar.

For a continuation of our fad or fact? In the series, we spoke with Casey Rhines, DDS, clinical assistant professor in the department of restorative dentistry at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, to learn more about the craze for xylitol, a sugar alcohol found in a growing number of products including toothpastes, gummies, mouthwashes and mints.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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