In a three-year study with 485 children conducted in Finland, Cargill compared the effect of common sugar alcohols on the development of dental caries, or cavities, said Peter De Cock, nutrition innovation leader for Cargill Nutrition and Health.
In speaking with FoodNavigator-USA as the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV recently, De Cock said the study compared the effect of erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol.
The study was also specifically designed to cancel out the effect of the mechanical action of chewing gum by using candy sweetened with the three ingredients. De Cock said that while earlier studies using gum had shown an effect for both erythritol and xylitol, the gum delivery system provided a confounding factor. Gum chewing stimulates salvia production, and that alone, he said, can inhibit the action of bacteria that cause plaques and can help with the remineralization process that repairs some of the damage caused by the acidic secretions of the bacteria.
Erythritol performed better in the study than either xylitol or sorbitol, De Cock said.
The mode of action was interesting; the ingredient does not act as a bacteriocidal agent directly, but rather inhibits the ability of the bacterial cells to adhere to teeth.
Erythritol also has added benefits as a no-calorie sweetener, De Cock said. It provides a bulking property similar to sugar, and so can replace some of sugar’s functional properties along with providing sweetness.
And erythritol is significantly easier on the stomach than xylitol. Gastric distress is the No. 1 consumer complaint about xylitol at higher dosages, such as consuming a serving of ice cream sweetened with the ingredient. While erythritol can conceivably have the same effect, the dosage required to reach that uncomfortable level is about twice that of xylitol, De Cock said.