The effect of 4 to 6 years of habitual use of xylitol gum (≥ 2 times per day) on the viable counts of mutans streptococci in both plaque and saliva was evaluated in a cross-sectional study of participants of the Ylivieska xylitol study (Finland, 1982–1984). Paraffin-stimulated saliva was collected first, whereafter the remaining plaque was collected from all available tooth surfaces and pooled. The habitual xylitol consumers (n = 15) had less plaque than the controls (n = 21). The total viable counts of mutans streptococci in the plaque collected from the habitual xylitol users were about 10% of those determined in controls (p < 0.01). The salivary mutans streptococci levels were relatively high in both habitual xylitol consumers and controls, as determined using a plate count and with an adhesion-based assay; no significant differences were detected between these groups. Thus, habitual xylitol consumption appeared not to be associated with a reduction in the total numbers of mutans streptococci in saliva. The plaque and the mutans streptococci were, however, more loosely bound to the tooth surfaces of the habitual xylitol users. The results of the plate count and the adhesion-based assay for salivary mutans streptococci were in good agreement for both habitual xylitol consumers and the controls. This suggests that it was the accumulation of plaque rather than the adhesiveness of mutans streptococci that was affected by the habitual consumption of xylitol.

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