30th March 2020
Honey is often considered to be a healthy, natural food. However, it's high in sugar. Not surprisingly then, questions are raised about the impact of honey on teeth and general dental health. Here are a few common questions:
This topic is not so straight forward as it might appear, because, although honey has a very high sugar content and can even taste sweeter than sugar, honey also has some anti-bacterial properties, which may actually be good for dental health. So to answer these questions, let's look at the scientific evidence.
Honey is primarily composed of sugars, and honey has an acidic pH. On the face of it then, honey has the potential to damage your teeth. Certainly, some dentists refer to honey as one of the food items that can cause tooth decay.
Firstly, cavities (also called tooth decay, caries or dental caries) are caused by plaque building up and attacking the hard surface of the teeth (the enamel) resulting in a hole or opening. Plaque is formed from bacteria, acid and food particles combined with saliva.
Given that like sugar, honey is acidic it would seem probable that honey might potentially damage tooth enamel, and indeed there is scientific evidence that honey increases dental cavities. For example:
These findings are no surprise. However, my concern about these studies is that no mention is made of the potential impact of excellent oral hygiene and how this might affect outcomes, particularly with regard to small amounts of honey consumption.
Is there any scientific evidence to suggest the opposite - i.e. that honey can be beneficial for teeth?
However, the authors don’t actually demonstrate a reduction in dental cavities, they simply state that their method (pH measurement and bacteriological count) has been successfully used before as a demonstration of how ‘cariegenic’ foods are (i.e. likely to cause tooth decay). That a food might not be cariegenic does not mean that it is also automatically a preventative against the dental problems stated.
One of the main problems with both of these studies is that they are both short term and take the antimicrobial properties of honey as an indicator that honey reduces dental cavities, but they don’t actually measure dental cavities over a longer period, or for example, prove a long term benefit to dental health from consuming honey frequently.
In another study in Nigerian Journal Of Clinical Practice, Mokhtari et al (5) showed that use of honey improves wound healing after dental extraction.
I have found no evidence to suggest that honey could stain teeth and personally cannot think of any reason why it would.
If your teeth hurt when you eat honey, it could be that you have some enamel erosion, gum recession, a crack in your tooth or some other problem. It would be best to visit the dentist to find out whether there is an underlying issue that needs to be dealt with.
So what are we left with? On balance, these studies do not accurately mimic the actual conditions within a human mouth, in the sense that no account is taken of the effect of dental hygiene (brushing, use of floss and inter-dental brushes, use of mouthwash) when designing the studies.
My personal view is that dental hygiene is as important after eating honey as it is when consuming any other food. If you consume honey frequently and/or in large amounts, I still think it's important to pay attention to oral hygiene routine and visit a dental practitioner and/or hygienist to ensure optimum tooth and gum health.
(1) Bowen WH, Lawrence RA. Comparison of the cariogenicity of cola, honey, cow milk, human milk, and sucrose. Pediatrics. 2005 Oct;116(4):921-6. PubMed PMID: 16199702.
(2) Shannon IL, Edmonds EJ, Madsen KO. Honey: sugar content and cariogenicity. ASDC J Dent Child. 1979 Jan-Feb;46(1):29-33. PubMed PMID: 283077.
(3) Atwa AD, AbuShahba RY, Mostafa M, Hashem MI. Effect of honey in preventing gingivitis and dental caries in patients undergoing orthodontic treatment. Saudi Dent J. 2014 Jul;26(3):108-14. doi: 10.1016/j.sdentj.2014.03.001. Epub 2014 Apr 19. PMID: 25057231; PMCID: PMC4095052.
(4) The potential of honey to promote oral wellness; Molan PC. Gen Dent. 2001 Nov-Dec;49(6):584-9. Review.
(5) Mokhtari S, Sanati I, Abdolahy S, Hosseini Z. Evaluation of the effect of honey on the healing of tooth extraction wounds in 4- to 9-year-old children. Niger J Clin Pract 2019;22:1328-34