Chewing gum after meals may be the next best thing to brushing for preventing tooth decay--that is, if the gum contains the natural sweetener xylitol, according to a University of Michigan study. Xylitol has been shown to reduce cavities by 50%, said Kauko K. Makinen, a professor of dentistry and biochemistry at the school.
Makinen based his findings on a study of 324 11- and 12-year-old children in Ylivieska, a rural community in northern Finland, conducted between 1982 and 1987. After two years, the 172 children who chewed gum with xylitol two to three times daily had an average of 53% fewer cavities than the group that chewed no gum but practiced conventional oral hygiene.
Makinen and his co-researcher, Pauli Isokangas, re-examined 90% of the children in 1987, three years after they had stopped chewing the gum, and found that the group who had initially chewed the xylitol gum had developed an average of approximately 50% fewer cavities in the interim.