Making educated sweet-ener selections might assist recovery efforts for an ailing chewing gum category. Polyols taking the place of sugar provide oral health benefits, especially among children with adult (permanent) teeth just emerging. Naturally sweetened promotions also might be possible.

Total U.S. retail chewing gum sales for the 52 weeks ended May 10 were $3,038,425,153, which was down from $3,187,039,287 in the 52-week period ended May 11, 2013, and from $3,547,398,082 in the 52-week period ended May 15, 2010, according to The Nielsen Co., New York.

The gum doldrums have hit sugarless varieties, too. Retail sales of regular gum in the United States were $519,206,500 for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, 2013, which was down 5.5% from the previous 52-week period, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago. During the same period U.S. retail sales of sugarless gum fell 6.4% to $2,715,919,000.

Three polyols — sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol — mainly may add oral health benefits and give manufacturers reason to smile.

Sorbitol is about 60% as sweet as sucrose and has a third fewer calories, according to the Calorie Control Council. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a “does not promote tooth decay” health claim in labeling for sugar-free foods that contain sorbitol or other polyols.

Sorbitol generally is less expensive than xylitol or erythritol, said Peter Decock, global nutrition innovation leader for Cargill Corn Milling, especially in the area of Zerose, Cargill’s brand name for its erythritol.

More scientific studies back up the oral health benefits of xylitol and erythritol.

The Cargill R.&D. Center Europe in Vilvoorde, Belgium, provided funding for a double-blind, randomized, controlled, three-year study on 485 school children initially between the ages of 7 to 8. That is the age when baby (primary) teeth are coming out and adult (permanent) teeth are coming in, Mr. Decock said.

“That is when people can benefit most in their lifetime to keep their teeth sound,” he said.

In the study, researchers from the University of Tartu in Estonia, the University of Turku in Finland and Kuwait University found a lower number of dentin caries teeth and surfaces in the group of children who ate candy with erythritol daily than in the group who ate candy with xylitol and in the control group who ate candy with sorbitol.

The study concluded in 2011. Results appeared on-line May 21, 2014, in Caries Research. Post-treatment examinations now will find out if reduction continued during the three years after the study ended, Mr. Decock said.

Xylitol fared well in a two-year study at the Ylivieska Health Center in Finland. Children of the ages 11 to 12 were exposed to 7 grams to 10 grams of xylitol daily in chewing gum. Results showed a 30% to 60% reduction in new dental caries development compared to the control group that did not chew gum. Re-examination of the children two or three years after they discontinued the study revealed a continued reduction in caries increment in the post-uses years of about 55%.

DuPont Nutrition & Health offers Xivia brand xylitol and says it is proven to help reduce the development of cavities, resist fermentation by oral bacteria, reduce plaque formation, increase the salivary flow to re-mineralize damaged tooth enamel, and complement and reinforce fluoride’s effect in oral hygiene products.

Mr. Decock said xylitol is about as sweet as sugar and contributes about 2.4 calories per gram compared with 4 calories per gram for sugar. Erythritol is 60% to 70% as sweet as sugar and is a zero-calorie sweetener.

The natural option

Using erythritol may allow manufacturers to say a gum is sweetened naturally in the United States. Yeast makes Cargill’s Zerose erythritol, Mr. Decock said. A carbohydrate acts as a feeding stock for the yeast. He compared it to a cow making milk. The cow eats the grass and then makes milk, and the yeast eats the carbohydrate and then makes erythritol.

Stevia, a high-intensity sweetener, also has potential for natural promotions.

PureCircle has a proprietary stevia leaf extract designed for chewing gum applications, said Faith Son, vice-president of global marketing and innovation for PureCircle USA, Inc., Oak Brook, Ill. The stevia extracts have been associated with a lingering sweetness. While beverage manufacturers may not want it, gum manufacturers may approve of the lingering sweetness, Ms. Son said.

Some gum manufacturers at the Sweets & Snacks Expo May 20-22 in Chicago were promoting products for what they did not contain — aspartame, a high-intensity sweetener. The products included Quench X, pur and vitamingum. Quench X and pur used xylitol as a sweetener while vitamingum used sorbitol, maltitol, sucralose and neotame as sweeteners.

Aspartame did not fare well in the recent International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2014 Food and Health Survey either. Thirty-three per cent of respondents said they tried to limit aspartame or avoid it entirely. The percentage for aspartame was lower than the percentages for added sugars (51%) and high-fructose corn syrup (48%), but it was higher than the percentages for fructose (30%), saccharin (27%), glucose (24%), sucrose (24%), sucralose (21%), stevia (16%) and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) (8%).

Yet governments have ruled aspartame is safe. A European Food Safety Authority panel last year concluded aspartame was not a safety concern at the current aspartame exposure estimates or at the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 40 mg/kg of body weight per day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved the safety of aspartame in 1981. In 2007 the F.D.A. concluded its review of a carcinogenicity study conducted by the European Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy. The F.D.A. said it did not support the foundation’s conclusion that aspartame is a carcinogen.

According to the Calorie Control Council, more than 200 scientific studies have confirmed the safety of aspartame.