Mormons and Ear Infections: Something to Chew On

Mormons tend to have more children than the general population, and that means one thing in particular: more ear infections. Antibiotics are the most common treatment, but for many kids they don’t seem to help all that much. Now some studies suggest that ear infections as well as tooth decay can be reduced by using a naturally occurring sugar, xylitol. Xylitol occurs naturally in some plants such as raspberries and is used in some chewing gums (e.g., Trident). It’s also available in several other forms such as syrup. Talk to your doctor and be sure to NOT give gum to young children who might choke on it – or put it in your hair.

Here is an abstract from M. Uhari et al., “Xylitol in Preventing Acute Otitis Media,” Vaccine, 2000 Dec 8;19 Suppl 1:S144-7:

Xylitol is a polyol sugar alcohol and is referred to as birch sugar, because it can be produced from birch. Natural sources of xylitol include plums, strawberries, raspberries and rowan berries. Xylitol inhibits the growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae and it inhibits the attachment of both pneumococci and Haemophilus influenzae on the nasopharyngeal cells. In two clinical trials xylitol was found efficient to prevent the development of acute otitis media with a daily dose of 8.4-10 g of xylitol given in five divided doses. The efficacy in these 2-3 months follow-up trials was approximately 40% when chewing gum was used and approximately 30% with xylitol syrup. The need to use antimicrobials reduced markedly when using xylitol. In a high-risk group of children with tympanostomy tubes xylitol was ineffective in preventing otitis. Xylitol appears to be an attractive alternative to prevent acute otitis media. A more practical frequency of doses should be found before its use can be widely recommended.

However, giving xylitol only when the child is suffering from ear infection may not work, according to T. Tapiainen et al. in “Xylitol Administered Only During Respiratory Infections Failed to Prevent Acute Otitis Media,” Pediatrics , Vol. 109 No. 2 February 2002, pp. e19 (full article is available at “

Disclaimer: I am not a physician and know almost squat about medical science, ear infection, otitis (is that a musical instrument from Brazil?), xylitol, and children. But I do occasionally chew gum, and once had an ear ache. Given my lack of credentials, it is amazing that I would dare post anything at all on health issues – or any other topic. Even more amazing is that some people would look to random blogs for medical advice. But if a little xylitol helps spare you from the frustration of ear aches in young children, well, I guess that’s OK. Talk to your doctor, do your homework, be careful what you do, don’t mess up your children with quack remedies, and floss daily. And keep your fingers out of your mouth and nose.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “Mormons and Ear Infections: Something to Chew On

  1. Our oldest son used to get ear infections constantly, to the point that our pediatrician was about to put tubes in his ears. About the same time my wife began seeing a chiropractor for a different issue, and he suggested we bring our son in for an adjustment. He explained that “subluxations” (nerve impingements caused by vertabral misalignment) in the neck can prevent fluid from draining normally in the eustrachian tubes. He hasn’t had another ear infection since, and neither have our other two children. Every time they complain about their ear beginning to hurt, we have them adjusted and the pain and pressure go away almost immediately.

    I also am not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV…

  2. I have a confession to make. I know you’re not supposed to, but sometimes I use Q-tips to clean my ear canals.

    I feel much better now.

  3. Interesting about the xylitol.

    We also regularly go to the chiropractor and our children have never had ear infections, although a few times have complained about hurting inside their ears (like once or twice since birth) and something else we have done, that works like a charm, is about 5 drops of tea tree oil in some warmed up extra virgin olive oil, dribbled into the ear and in one or two doses, the pain is gone. So that and the chiropractor sure work well! Also, babies that are breastfed have less ear infections, so that’s something to consider as well.

  4. My mother told me that my grandfather used to blow cigar smoke in the kids ears when they had ear aches.

    I prefer the other remedies you folks have offered.

  5. Actually, antibiotics don’t work for ear infections AT ALL because the antibiotics work through the bloodstream, and the ear infections cannot be reached through the bloodstream. Doctors give the antibiotics to the parents to appease them, and it *seems* like they work because the kids get better in a few days- but in reality, most ear infections clear up by themselves in a few days!!!

  6. I chewed Trident all the time as a kid and got ear infections more than all my other siblings put together. I also got too used to far too many antibiotics thanks to uncompleted antibiotic regimens (usually we stopped after 6 or 7 days.)

  7. My son is on long term antibiotics but it is one that stays in the tissues of the body so it does work for his ears. Antibiotics DO WORK on ear infections if you get the right one. Get the immune system checked as his CD4 count is very low, but he does have VCFS which is what causes his chronic otitis media.

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