Xylitol Improves Lichen Planus and Geographic Tongue
by Evelyn M., Westchester County, NY
In my forties — I am now 75 — my gums started to bother me. Newly-returned to the United States from Iran, I searched for a good dentist. The first one told me to get a cap on a tooth with a small chip. That was no help. A colleague recommended a specialist in gum problems. The specialist advised “scaling,” which didn’t help. Then he said I was not cleaning my teeth well enough. He put a substance on my teeth to reveal incomplete cleaning and was flummoxed when he could find no evidence of bad brushing or flossing. I gave up trying to solve my gum problem.
When I was about 50, a “crisis tooth” (a molar on the upper right) forced me to see a dentist. I found a very good dentist, sensible and conservative in approach. After the problem tooth was removed, he turned to the overall condition of my mouth. I told him about the gum treatments I’d had. Then he showed me an x-ray that revealed an abscess under the root of a tooth on the lower right hand side. That tooth didn’t hurt, and looked OK, but was leaking pus into the gum, inflaming the entire lower right hand side of my gums. The gum specialist had missed it completely. After that tooth was removed, and the surrounding area healed, my gums were fine for many years.
Two years ago, I developed a condition called lichen planus. The entire inside of my mouth was inflamed and swollen — gums, tongue, the inside of my cheeks, all of it. I could not brush my teeth or eat anything except the blandest of foods. I also had a metallic taste in my mouth. It was torture.
After diagnosing the condition (“you have lichen planus”), my dentist sent me to an oral pathologist. The pathologist said there was no cure that he could guarantee and gave me two prescription drugs — one to treat problems caused by fungi, the other to deal with bacteria. Neither helped. I confirmed on the web what the dentist and the oral pathologist had said.
Concluding that medical science couldn’t help, I starting searching the web for other suggestions. I found Seth Roberts’s blog, which suggested taking flaxseed oil to improve gums. I tried it. My psoriasis improved but the lichen planus remained.
Source of Idea
In November 2011, the Drudge Report led me to an announcement that UCLA scientists were working on a mouthwash to prevent cavities. A comment said: “Xylitol is a plant sugar that kills s[treptococcus] mutans, and has been around for years as a toothpaste, mouthwash and gum. This is not new at all. Regular use of xylitol does all this, is cheap, and is NOT patentable. So, UCLA, this is nonsense.”
I found a wealth of data on the web about xylitol, mainly research from Finland. The evidence showed that it killed bacteria that cause tooth decay and helped re-mineralize decayed teeth. The reports often mentioned that general oral health had improved in patients using xylitol. I decided to try it.
Most xylitol research has been done using gum that children chew after meals three or four times a day. I do not like to chew gum. I found other studies showing that taking a quarter to a half a teaspoon of the sugar (made from birch bark) four times a day is equally effective. I put the xylitol in my mouth, it melts, I swish it around my mouth until the saliva that it produces is quite extensive (60-90 seconds) and swallow it.
I started taking xylitol more than a year ago. After six weeks, the metallic taste was gone and my inner cheeks were noticeably less inflamed. After three months it was clear that my tongue was improving. Now I am sure that the lichen planus is in remission.
My most recent dentist visit was six months ago [October 2012], after I’d been using xylitol for ten months. My dentist and hygienist were astounded. They had been expecting the lichen planus to look the same as when they had seen it before (one year earlier). By then, however, my mouth had healed substantially.
That wasn’t the only improvement. I’d always had what dentists call geographic tongue— deep fissures that make a pattern on the surface of the tongue. It never bothered me. I never noticed it until a dental hygienist pointed it out to me (in horror!). I went from having a tongue full of fissures and “ruffled” around the edges to a tongue that was completely healed and looked better than it had in many years. My dentist could still find some of the lace-like effects that lichen planus produces on the inside of my cheeks. The geographic tongue is now [March 2013] completely gone, as is all the plaque on my teeth, the redness of my gums, and the soreness and inflammation I had experienced from the lichen planus on the inside of my cheeks, my hard and soft palate, and uvula.
When I told my dentist I was using xylitol, he knew what it was and was happy to see the improvement, but it had never occurred to him to suggest I use it. It is not a regular dental technique. I continue to use it, keeping jars of xylitol next to the kitchen stove and the computer screen (my two favorite haunts!) so that it is always at hand.
At the turn of the year (2012 to 2013) I emailed friends and family encouraging them to try xylitol. One friend started using xylitol by the end of January and in March told me about her progress. She has already noticed a great improvement in her gums. She said that she hadn’t been perfect in dosing herself, sometimes forgetting a day, often only using it three times a day instead of four or five, but since she now had evidence that it actually helps, she was determined to take it more religiously. She bought xylitol gum for her children, putting xylitol mints in their lunch boxes.
Role of Xylitol in Oral Health (video)