Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener. It is a sugar substitute in some gums and candies, and some oral care products, such as toothpastes, dental flosses, and mouthwashes, also contain it.

Xylitol can help prevent dental cavities, making it a tooth-friendly alternative to traditional sweeteners.

It is also low in calories, so opting for foods that contain this sweetener rather than sugar may help a person reach or maintain a moderate weight.

Emerging research, which we explore below, suggests that xylitol may have other health benefits. However, this research is still in its early stages.

This article describes what xylitol is and the possible health effects of opting for a xylitol gum. It also compares xylitol with another sweetener: aspartame.

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Xylitol is a sugar alcohol in many fruits and vegetables. It has a sharp, very sweet taste that is different from other types of sugar.

Manufacturers process xylitol to turn it into a sweetener for products such as:

  • gums
  • candies
  • chocolates
  • cookies
  • sugar-free cake mixes
  • ice cream
  • nut butters

It is also an ingredient in some oral care products, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, both as a flavor enhancer and a cavity-fighting agent.

A person might try xylitol gum because it may provide the following benefits:

Preventing cavities

Most research into xylitol has focused on its potential to fight dental cavities.

Xylitol helps prevent the formation of plaque, and it may slow bacterial growth associated with cavities.

According to a 2020 review, xylitol may be especially effective against the bacterial strains Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sangui.

The researchers also found evidence that xylitol may help remineralize the teeth, supporting the reversal of damage from bacteria, and alleviate tooth sensitivity. It may even help reduce the risk of future cavities.

Treating mouth sores

Xylitol is an anti-inflammatory agent that may kill certain bacteria, including those that form plaque on the gums and teeth.

Angular chelitis is a painful inflammatory skin condition that affects the corners of the lips and mouth. A 2021 review outlines evidence that xylitol mouth rinses or gums may reduce the risk of angular chelitis in people over 60.

Xylitol is an ingredient in many products other than gum. A person can also buy it as sugar-like granules and in other forms.

Early research suggests that xylitol may have benefits beyond oral health. We explore these below.

Preventing ear infections

A 2016 meta-analysis of three clinical trials suggests that xylitol may play a role in preventing ear infections in children.

The team found moderate-quality evidence that giving children xylitol in any form could reduce their risk of acute otitis media, the most common type of ear infection. In this meta-analysis, xylitol reduced the risk from around 30% to around 22%, compared with a control group.

The researchers emphasize that their data is incomplete, and it is unclear whether xylitol is beneficial for children who are especially vulnerable to ear infections.

Helping with weight management

A 2020 review found that this low-calorie sugar can increase satiety, helping people feel fuller for longer after eating.

Opting for sweets that contain xylitol instead of sugar can also help a person avoid sugar’s empty calories. As such, this switch may be a good option for people looking to manage their weight without making drastic changes to their diet.

However, no research demonstrates that switching to foods containing xylitol, not sugar, helps with weight loss more than traditional methods.

As a sugar substitute for people with diabetes

A small 2021 pilot study found that xylitol had only very small effects on blood glucose and insulin levels. This suggests that it may be a safe sugar alternative for people with diabetes.

Other health benefits

Xylitol has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may provide additional health benefits.

A 2020 review described evidence that xylitol may also help with:

  • reducing constipation
  • reducing obesity, especially as a sugar substitute
  • supporting better blood glucose management in people with diabetes
  • reducing the risk and severity of respiratory infections

And research from 2016 indicates that xylitol may help improve calcium absorption to prevent bone density loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Further high-quality studies are necessary to confirm these findings.

There is little evidence that xylitol poses any health risks, especially in comparison with other sweeteners. There is no evidence linking it to long-term negative effects, such as cancer.

Like other sweeteners, xylitol may cause abdominal discomfort, such as nausea and bloating in some people. Still, the 2016 review suggests that people generally tolerate xylitol better than other sweeteners, with the exception of a sweetener called erythritol.

It is worth noting that xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even a small amount can cause seizures, liver failure, or even death. Never give a dog any food that might contain xylitol, and keep all products containing xylitol well out of a dog’s reach.

There is currently no evidence of dangerous interactions between xylitol and any other substances.

However, anyone who may be having negative health effects linked with xylitol should avoid further contact with it and consult a healthcare professional.

It is possible to develop an allergy to any substance. However there is no evidence that xylitol allergies are common.

People with diabetes should be mindful of the effects of all sweeteners on blood glucose. However, a small 2021 pilot study suggests that the effects of xylitol on blood glucose and insulin production are small.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that manufacturers may use on its own or in addition to xylitol.

Aspartame caused some controversy when early animal studies suggested that it may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. More recent research has called this into question.

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have concluded that the current accepted daily intake (ADI) of aspartame is safe.

More specifically, the EFSA suggests that an ADI of under 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight is safe. Typical daily consumption falls well below this level.

Unlike aspartame, no research has linked xylitol to serious health issues. For this reason, some consumers may prefer xylitol to aspartame.

Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener that derives from certain fruits and vegetables. Manufacturers use it in sweet foods and oral care products.

Most research into the potential health benefits of xylitol focuses on its ability to improve oral health due to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Other findings indicate that xylitol may help prevent ear infections, help with weight management, and alleviate constipation, among other possible benefits. However, further research is necessary.

Anyone with diabetes or an allergy to sweeteners should speak with a doctor before using xylitol.