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Xylitol Chewing Gum and Ear Infections

In a Finnish study done over twenty years ago, Uhari, Kontiokari, Koskela, and Niemela wanted to find out why data showed a correlation between the use of xylitol and reductions in middle ear infections (acute otitis media). In previous studies, xylitol was effective against Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria found in the mouth, and also against Streptococcus pneumonia, the bacteria known as the major cause of pneumonia and ear infections. These studies showed that xylitol inhibited the growth of pneumococci. Uhari et al. wanted to find out if xylitol would affect the pathogen numbers in the body and reduce ear infections.

To perform the study, the researchers sampled 11 ordinary day care nurseries with healthy children. The children on average were five years old, with a history of recurrent ear infections. Researchers randomly divided the children into two groups. One group would chew two pieces of gum containing xylitol five times a day. This would be done after meals and snacks. The children needed to chew for at least five minutes or until the flavor was gone. The children would consume a total of 8.4 g of xylitol—a normal, healthy amount. Researchers asked the second group to chew gum like the first, but the second group’s gum would contain sucrose, not xylitol. Other than the gum, the children were to follow all food-eating habits and to avoid consuming other products with xylitol.

306 children completed the study and were eligible for analysis. The amounts of pneumococcal varied throughout the study but there wasn’t any difference in the groups. Each group also had an equal number of other illnesses besides ear infections. However, ear infection cases decreased in the xylitol chewing gum group. 43/149 (28.9%) children in the sucrose group reported ear infections, while 22/157 (14%) cases were reported in the xylitol group. When talking about the xylitol chewing gum group, researchers also noted in their paper that “those who experienced acute otitis media had forgotten their chewing gum significantly more often than those who had not had any acute otitis media” (313).

From their findings, the researchers concluded that xylitol could be very helpful with ear infections. They also noted that the main reason children use oral antimicrobials is generally for respiratory and ear infections. With more resistant bacterial strains always forming, xylitol could be a good alternative to treat these infections.

Uhari, M., T. Kontiokari, M. Koskela, and M. Niemela. “Xylitol Chewing Gum Prevention in Acute Otitis Media: Double Blind Randomised Trial.” BMJ 313.7066 (1996): 1180-184. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.