Painful ear infections, common among children, are frustratingly heartbreaking for parents. But what if you could stave them off simply by having your kids chew gum?

Scandinavian researchers have found “fair evidence” to support the conclusion that children who chew gum containing the natural sweetener xylitol may have a lower risk of developing middle ear infections. In fact, regular consumption of xylitol in gum, lozenges or syrup was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk for such infections.

Xylitol, also known as birch sugar, is used in many low-calorie food items. It’s also a favorite of dentists because it’s been shown to curb the growth of some bacteria, making xylitol-sweetened gum a perfect choice for patients. Since many middle ear infections occur when bacteria accumulate in the eustachian tubes connecting the nose and ears, the hope is that xylitol may prevent bacteria from growing there, thus preventing those infections.

That said, Dr. Mark Shikowitz, vice chairman of the department of otolaryngology and communicative disorders at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, New York says, “Xylitol may have some [effectiveness] as shown in these pilot studies, but certainly more studies are needed.”

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