“TEETH.—Honey mixed with pure pulverized charcoal is said to be excellent to cleanse the teeth, and make them white. Lime-water with a little Peruvian bark is very good to be occasionally used by those who have defective teeth, or an offensive breath.”
The American Frugal Housewife
by Lydia Maria Child
I assumed the honey was simply a comically counterproductive attempt to make the abrasive element, charcoal, palatable, but Jane set me straight with this quote from Jeanne Bendick’s Galen and the Gateway to Medicine:
“Honey was used on almost all wounds. It was a disinfectant and an antibiotic, although ancient doctors didn’t know those words, either. (Honey breaks down into hydrogen peroxide.) But doctors knew that honey helped healing. The Egyptians used honey in 500 of their 700 cures.”
Hydrogen peroxide! Who knew? Wikipedia elaborates:
Hydrogen peroxide in honey is activated by dilution. However, unlike medical hydrogen peroxide, commonly 3% by volume, it is present in a concentration of only 1 mmol/l in honey. Iron in honey oxidize the oxygen free radicals released by the hydrogen peroxide.
glucose + H2O+ O2 → gluconic acid + H2O2
When used topically as, for example a wound dressing, hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic. Unlike 3% medical hydrogen peroxide, this slow release does not cause damage to surrounding tissue.
Nonetheless, I think I’ll stick with my Tom’s of Maine.