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Xylitol may prevent middle ear infection

Having your child chew sugar free gum with xylitol several times a day may not only help protect her from getting cavities—it may also be a useful strategy to help prevent acute middle ear infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that is usually painful and may improve with antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can include pain, redness of the eardrum, pus in the ear and fever.

The Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group examined three Finnish studies from 1998 through 2007. More than 3,000 healthy children in day care settings received the natural non-sugar sweetener xylitol in gum, lozenges or syrup. The children who received xylitol in the studies had 25 percent fewer ear infections.

Those receiving the xylitol gum chewed it five times a day for at least five minutes.

"In the United States, AOM accounted for almost 16 million office visits in 2000 and costs almost $3.8 billion annually in direct and indirect health care costs," researchers said. "Antibiotic treatment of AOM is costly and raises concerns regarding the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Surgery is invasive and costly and because of these factors, effective measures for preventing AOM are sought."

A fourth study followed children with upper respiratory infections who received xylitol. In those children there was no reduction in the number of ear infections with the xylitol treatments.

Xylitol has been shown to inhibit growth and acid production of a variety of bacteria related to cavities and upper respiratory infections, so the researchers theorized that it would also be useful for preventing middle ear infections.

Several kinds of xylitol-containing sugar free gum have the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Learn more at

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