Chewing gum and ear infections

Chewing gum containing the natural sweetner xylitol has been found to substantially reduce chronic ear infections. Researchers at the University of Oulu in Finland studied 306 preschoolers. Some of the children were given regular gum, and others were given chewing gum containing xylitol.

Among the children given the xylitol gum, the number of ear infections fell by nearly 50 percent compared with those in children given the plain gum. Also, the number of children who contracted ear infections fell by one third.

Found in birch and maple trees, corncobs, and straw, xylitol was first recognized in Germany around the turn of the 20th century. In 1975, xylitol's use as a commercial sweetener commenced after studies in Finland proved it useful in preventing tooth decay; the reason was that bacteria cannot survive on xylitol, as is possible on other sugars such as fructose and glucose.

Finnish researchers believe xylitol combats ear infections by preventing bacteria from attaching to cells at the back of the mouth and from then entering the ear, thus causing infection.

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