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Candy snacks with xylitol sweetener could reduce plaque in young children

Gummy bear snacks containing xylitol — a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that frequently is used as a sweetener — could help prevent plaque in young children, according to researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle.

Xylitol has been shown to reduce levels of mutans streptococci, a bacterium associated with periodontal disease and tooth decay, in the oral cavity. While xylitol chewing gums are available, they are not considered to be suitable for younger children.

The UW researchers examined the effectiveness of xylitol received via a different delivery method: gummy bear snacks. They randomly assigned 154 children in first through fifth grade at two elementary schools to three groups, two groups receiving gummy bears with different concentrations of xylitol and a third receiving gummy bears with a different sweetener. The children were given four gummy bears three times a day during school hours.

The researchers sampled the children's plaque at baseline and at six weeks to determine the levels of Streptococcus mutans and two other bacteria, Streptococcus sobrinus and Lactobacillus.

They found no differences in S. mutans, S. sobrinus and Lactobacillus species levels in plaque between the groups at baseline. At six weeks, they found significantly reduced levels of S. mutans and S. sobrinus in all groups. Results for the Lactobacillus species, however, were mixed. Researchers found reductions in plaque levels for the groups receiving the higher dose of xylitol and the other sweetener, while they found an increase for the lower-dose xylitol group.

"For xylitol to be successfully used in oral health promotion programs among primary-school children, an effective means of delivering xylitol must be identified," said Dr. Kiet A. Ly, acting assistant professor, Department of Dental Public Health Sciences, University of Washington. "Gummy bears would seem to be more ideal than chewing gum."

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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