A study published by Finnish company Cochrane Summaries in November of 2011 suggests that chewing gum sweetened with xylitol may help to prevent middle ear infections in children.

By the age of three, approximately 83% of children have experienced at least one middle ear infection caused by the accumulation of bacteria in the eustachian tubes, which connect the nose and ears. Xylitol slows bacteria growth, and so may prevent bacteria from over-colonizing the eustachian tubes, as well as prevent cavities.

Three studies were conducted using 3,103 Finnish day care students who were asked to chew two pieces of gum containing xylitol five times per day after meals for at least five minutes. It was found that this reduced the occurrence of acute middle ear infections in healthy children who did not have a respiratory infection by 25%.

Xylitol, or birch sugar, is a natural alternative to sugar that is found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables. It is frequently used as a sweetener in sugar-free chewing gums, lozenges, candies, and toothpaste.

Researchers are calling for more studies to be conducted before any definite claims can be made, but it seems clear that there is a good chance of a correlation between the consumption of xylitol and the absence of middle ear infections.

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