birch Trees in VANTAA, FINLAND. DAVID CORBACHO

Xylitol and Finland

The Finnish origins of the Xylitol chewing gum

XYLITOL, in big letters. Oh well, just another marketing buzzword I thought, putting the pack of chewing gum in the shopping car.

The more time I spent in Finland, the more I saw Xylitol everywhere; in chewing gum, toothpastes, candies, even in their sacred Salmiakki. This wasn’t normal.


What is Xylitol?

Well, you can check it in Wikipedia. It’s just one type of sugar, but the funny thing about it is that it has almost the opposite effects of sugar in our oral health.

The normal, white sugar “sucrose” acts like this:

  • It’s used by the bacteria in your mouth for fuel.
  • Bacteria produce lactic acid as a waste product.
  • This acid decreases the pH in your mouth, dissolving the hard enamel (demineralization) and making it “soft” and more vulnerable for 30 minutes.
  • No worries, our saliva will restore the pH back to “healthy” levels unless you take another sip of your sugary drink.

This process, eventually, will lead to cavities.

Instead, the Xylitol sugar:

  • Can’t be used by the bacteria in your mouth as an energy source.
  • Even more, it inhibits bacterial growth and reproduction (they are starved in the presence of xylitol).
  • When consumed as chewing gum, the act of chewing will create even more saliva, recovering the normal pH faster in your mouth.

It has more benefits for the health compared to the normal sugar. But I will let you to do the Google homework.


Finnish origins

Xylitol is not just a marketing thing.

Jenkki and University of Turku developed the world’s first Xylitol sweetened chewing gum in 1975. The research done in that time was known as the “Turku sugar studies.”

The Xylitol from Finland is made out of the birch trees, such as the ones you can see in the header image.

Sadly the Finns are not leading the Xylitol research any longer. The Xylitol production business and know-how was sold to the Danish Danisco many years ago, although the Finnish factory still employs 175 people.

‘Jenkki Professional’ are the ones that only contain Xylitol and do not contain other types of sugars, like sorbitol. Did you know they are produced in Turkey ?

Xylitol from Finnish birch trees seem to have a “higher quality” aura. Although I ignore what differentiates this from the Chinese factories, where it is obtained from corn.

Maybe Finns don’t own the business any longer, but Xylitol has been part of the Finnish culture already for several generations. Meanwhile, many other countries in the world are now starting to discover its benefits.


Some extra tips

  • If possible, try to find Xylitol chewing gum without sorbitol. This other sugar-alternative doesn't have the same benefits because it’s a 5-carbon sugar, so it can be processed by the mouth bacteria.
  • Do you think it is good to brush your teeth just after breakfast? Think again. The enamel is soft because of the acid and sugar in the foods you’ve eaten for breakfast. You will be removing your enamel with the abrasive toothpaste. Brush your teeth before having breakfast. Yes, before.

Disclaimer

I’m not a doctor, nor am I a dentist.