EFSA’s acceptance of the article 14 petition, submitted by the Dutch and Finnish group incorporating LEAF Int, Leaf Holland and Leaf Suomi Oy, means that manufacturers of chewing gum sweetened with 100 per cent xylitol are now allowed to state: “Xylitol chewing gum reduces the risk of caries in children.”
The EFSA report said that the scientific justification for the claim related to consuming 2-3g of the gum at least three times a day after meals, and that this quantity “could easily be consumed as part of a balanced diet.”
EFSA had been presented with five studies which showed the effects of chewing gum sweetened with 100 per cent xylitol on the incidence of caries in children compared to no treatment.
The report said: “Considering the high number of studies, subjects and observation years presented, as well as the consistency of the results and the magnitude of the effect, the Panel considers that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of chewing gum sweetened with 100 per cent xylitol and the reduction of the risk of tooth decay in children.”
Pastille studies rejected
Meanwhile, the Leaf group’s claim that pastilles sweetened with at least 56 per cent xylitol also reduce the risk of caries in children was rejected by EFSA, based on “significant weaknesses” in the research presented to substantiate the claimed effect.
Two of the three studies presented on the effect of xylitol-sweetened pastilles were discounted on the grounds that “potential confounders” such as diet and concurrent dental health treatments had not been reported, while the third study failed to show a difference in the incidence of caries between the study’s subjects and the control group.
While the report noted that excessive consumption of xylitol can cause diarrhoea, it concluded that if consumed at the recommended effective level it would not have a laxative effect. It went on to recommend, however, that chewing gum should not be given to children under the age of three as it presents a choking hazard.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, vegetables, corn cobs and birch tree bark. It is made by extracting xylan as a liquid sugar from birch wood pulp and then converting it into a crystalline form.