Bitter and sweet taste perception: relationships to self-reported oral hygiene habits and oral health status in a survey of Australian adults

BMC Oral Health. 2021 Oct 29;21(1):553. doi: 10.1186/s12903-021-01910-8.


Background: Oral health, an essential part of general health and well-being, is influenced by multiple factors, including oral hygiene habits and dietary factors. Dietary preferences are influenced by variation in taste perceptions and threshold tasting. Polymorphisms in specific genes for sweet and bitter taste receptors and bitter taste perception have been associated with dental caries. However, taste is complex with multiple receptors, each with multiple potential polymorphisms contributing to taste perception as well as social, cultural, and environmental influences. Additionally, these association studies have been conducted in restricted cohorts (e.g., children only). Furthermore, outcomes have been limited to dental caries and studies between taste perception and oral hygiene habits have not been completed.

Methods: A cross-sectional online survey was conducted to investigate the relationships between bitter and sweet taste perception (liking and intensity of index food items), self-reported oral hygiene habits and oral health (n = 518).

Results: Higher mean intensity scores for bitter (16-21%) and sweet (< 5%-60%) were seen with higher frequencies of oral hygiene habits (brushing, use of mouthwash, chewing gum and tongue cleaning). Lower mean bitter liking scores (18-21%) were seen with higher frequencies of oral hygiene habits (brushing, mouthwash use, floss use and chewing gum). Sweet liking scores varied by reported frequency of mouthwash use and flossing only, with mixed patterns of variance. Mean bitter and sweet intensity perception scores varied with the number of dental caries ((13-20% higher in those with 3 or more caries, compared to none).

Conclusions: While there were numerous relationships identified between liking and perception of sweet and bitter and oral health outcomes, the magnitude and direction of associations varied by outcome. The direction of the associations cannot be inferred due to the cross-sectional nature of the study. The demonstrated relationships justify further future investigations, which could help better understand if taste liking and perception is impacted by oral hygiene and health, or vice versa. This could be important in understanding the causation and progression of oral health diseases or the development of novel therapeutics for oral health.

Keywords: Bitter; Intensity; Liking; Oral health; Oral hygiene; Perception; Sweet; Taste.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dental Caries* / etiology
  • Dental Caries* / prevention & control
  • Food Preferences
  • Habits
  • Humans
  • Oral Health
  • Oral Hygiene
  • Self Report
  • Taste
  • Taste Perception*