Dear Dr. Ellie,
I was worried that My son’s tooth may have died, so we went to a gentle pediatric dentist yesterday, and he said to keep a watch out for gum abscesses. So I looked up abscess in my baby medical book and it said this is usually caused by bacterial infection and a compromised immune system. What is an abscess and does Xylitol, because it does inhibit bacteria, can prevent abscesses?
Xylitol cannot help if a tooth has already died. I hope you managed to catch the problems in time but do keep a look out for a lump on the gum. If this happens it is not going to be bad treatment for a baby tooth abscess can be quite simple.
For teeth, the formation of an abscess happens when bacteria grow and multiply inside the tooth in the part of the tooth that is called the “pulp” of the tooth. Every tooth has a pulp in the center of it both in the crown of the tooth ( covered by an outer layer of dentin and then a coating of enamel on the very outside) and in the root part below the gum. The root of a tooth has a pulp area that goes down the root to connect with blood vessels and nerves in the jaw bone. The pulp literally connects a tooth to the body. The health of the pulp is protected in a healthy tooth by the covering of dentin and enamel. If a cavity has formed in these covering layers they become weakened and porous. This weakened covering can allow bacteria to travel inside the tooth and reach the pulp in the center. Now is the time when the outcome will depends on your immune system and resistance to infection. It also depends on the aggressive qualities of the bacteria – how many of them etc.
I am not sure if xylitol can help the pulp fight the bacteria in any way. Certainly xylitol reduces the numbers of harmful bacteria in the mouth and so there will be less of the aggressive kind around. The main use of xylitol is that it helps to deposit new minerals into soft areas in the covering layers of teeth. This literally blocks up the access to the inside pulp of the tooth. Xylitol can “shut the door” on the bacteria and stop them from getting into the center of the tooth.
So even if you had a cavity that was not filled, xylitol can help protect the inside of this tooth from becoming infected IF you catch the problem in time. If bacteria already reached the inside of the tooth before the xylitol treatment started we would have to hope that the body can fight the infection. If it is unable to fight the infective bacteria, they will gradually take over the pulp area and an abscess forms. I think you have a good chance that you started taking xylitol in time to have prevented this. If you continue the xylitol you will continue to reduce the risk of an abscess forming. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions I can answer. I hope the answer is clear it is a little complicated to explain!
Ellie Phillips, DDS