Journal of Personal Science: Xylitol Cures Lichen Planus and Geographic Tongue

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.

More Information

Controversies around xylitol.

Role of Xylitol in Oral Health (video)

Xylitol and dental caries

Sugar alcohols, caries incidence and remineralization of caries lesions: A literature review

Summary of xylitol research

8 Replies to “Journal of Personal Science: Xylitol Cures Lichen Planus and Geographic Tongue”

  1. I have had geographic tongue all my life for which I was told there was nothing wrong and nothing to be done….really? Occasionally have had very bad bouts of painful lesions on the tongue which have recently been diagnosed as “burning mouth syndrome” for which I was told there is no cure…nothing can be done…really? It has (so far) almost completely abated using xylitol as part of regime by a dentist I found via comments on the Paleohacks website.
    The funny thing is I had just been using Xylitol while waiting to find a couple of her other recommendations. So far, the lesions are gone and the tongue is almost normal. Her regime is part of an overall oral health/cavity free goal. Everything can be purchased at a Walgreens. I may never need to see a dentist again.

  2. I have geographic tongue too. I’ve been taking Zinc supplements with some success (going out and getting some sun seems to help some too).

    I wonder if it is a combination of not getting enough sun which caused a deficiency in Zinc which allowed some bacteria to over populate my tongue. I would have to do some research, but it is a hypothesis to start with! I also, haven’t been drinking enough water which caused painful fissures on my fingers.

    I’ll have to try the Zylitol too. I had been using it a little big as I was doing Ellie Phillips regime, but I haven’t been consistent with it.

  3. I suffered from gum disease and cavities from my teen year until a couple of years ago. The progression seemed to get worse when I moved to the USA in 1999.

    Then I switched dentists and they did (at some considerable cost to myself) an oral DNA analysis, which revealed a number of pathogens, including what they considered the ‘bad’ one which was an anaerobic bacteria that buries into the gums and does bad things. They gave me a bunch of antibiotics and 3 monthly cleanings and the progression halted and the gums became less inflamed.

    Then I became aware of two bits of information, first about omega-3 and gum health from this blog, and secondly about the way anaerobic bacteria in the gut can’t metabolize saturated fats (with downstream consequences). So switching my diet to (as far as is possible) saturated fats, with the exception of a shot glass of flax seed oil in the mornings (omega-3) and in the following two years my pockets improves and my gum inflammation went away entirely.

    The response from my hygienist has been most interesting – her: “I see you’ve been really on top of your cleaning and flossing”. Me: “No, I rarely brush and never floss, I just followed up on some inflammation research and switched to saturated fats and some omega-3s in my diet.”. She didn’t want to hear any more and has stopped talking about it. I assume the mental dissonance was too great for her.

    My only regret is that I changed multiple variables at a time, so it’s hard to know whether all or a subset of those interventions was the primary cause of the improvement.

  4. i have been reading about Xylitol for a while and even recently saw that a new sweet containing Xylitol was going to be launched in the UK stores to prevent teeth infections. After reading the article above, when we went away this weekend I thought I would try to find some Xylitol gum while I was out shopping. I found Smints which contain xylitol, I kept taking a small mint after a meal or a drink over the weekend. Friday I noticed a small ulcer causing irritation on the inside of my mouth. Without making any connection after popping Smints with xylitol on Saturday and one before bed, on the the drive back home on Sunday I noticed my ulcer had gone! completely. Now that was weird!

  5. @Rein,
    thanks for your find. One should be aware of potential pitfalls. eg
    Is xylitol toxic to dogs?

    Many dog owners are aware that chocolate, coffee, and grapes are toxic to dogs, but are aware of the risk from ingesting the common natural sweetener, xylitol? Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is found in a variety of products, including chewing gum, toothpaste, mints, floss, candy, chewable vitamins, and sugar-free baked goods. While xylitol offers many health benefits to humans, it can be deadly to dogs and should not be fed to any pets.

    Ingesting 100 milligram of xylitol per kilogram of bodyweight may cause a rapid release of the hormone insulin, causing a sudden decrease in blood glucose (potentially life-threatening hypoglycemia, low blood sugar) for dogs. The drop in blood sugar occurs within 15 minutes, while the symptoms of hypoglycemia (vomiting, depression, loss of coordination, seizures, or coma are all possible symptoms) may be seen within 30 minutes after the dog consumes the xylitol-containing product. Exposure to higher doses of xylitol may possibly result in fatal liver failure in some dogs

    An cautionary note is sounded by this person who points to diet as a factor in out of balance oral cavity flora.

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