When to Brush Your Teeth
It’s lunchtime, and that triple-cheese gut bomb with extra onion, extra jalapeños, spicy mustard, and bacon with blue cheese truffle fries and a diet soda is calling your name! For some insane reason, your mouth begins to water just thinking about it and your stomach screams that it’s hangry!
The server hasn’t even reached your table yet … but the blood hound in you takes over. You can smell the gluttony across the room while it makes its way to your table.
It arrives. Your eyes gaze upon the most beautiful creation a grille could create. You pause for a moment to breathe in the smell of charcoal and hot oil from your fries … ahhhhhhh … yessss!!!
You only have thirty minutes to shovel it in and get back to the office before your boss comes to look for you. Chewing is overrated. You inhale your burger and fries, slug your soda, and shove down the indigestion that immediately follows.
Then you settle your tab and drive like Mad Max in your own personal thunder dome through the hordes of other cars participating in the great lunch migration that happens every day at noon.
You bring your car to a screeching halt in the parking garage, rush back inside, awkwardly wave to your colleagues in the elevator to please hold up, and speed walk to your desk to grab your pen and notebook on the way to your afternoon meeting.
Are you forgetting something?
After taking your place at the conference table, your neighbor looks at you with a scrunched face and not-so-subtly offers you a breath mint. Crap. It hits you.
The comforting aromas you enjoyed right before the lunch migration are emanating from your mouth. Now everyone around you can now enjoy them, too.
Great, just great. You cram the mint into your mouth and begin to pray. Dear sweet baby Jesus, you made water into wine. Please turn my pen into a toothbrush and my water bottle into a nuclear-powered mouthwash. I promise to eat salads and chew parsley from now on. Amen.
You know it’s bad when you’ve resorted to praying about your post-lunch oral hygiene.
What’s the Deal with Brushing After Meals?
Did you know that dental professionals often advise their patients to brush their teeth twice every day and after taking meals? However, new discoveries in oral hygiene suggest that people should not brush their teeth immediately after eating.
Seriously? No way. That cannot be right. How can that be?
OK, so let’s review a few facts about your mouth, digestion, and the science behind this new theory.
The mouth is the first step in the digestive system, and as food enters your mouth, your teeth begin mechanically breaking down the food into small and smaller pieces. The saliva starts to chemically break it down as well.
Saliva is a substance produced by the salivary glands, and human saliva is almost completely water. The other tiny percentage consists of electrolytes, mucus, and antibacterial compounds. Not only does saliva break down the foods you eat, but your saliva helps naturally kill harmful bacteria in your mouth.
While you sleep, plaque-causing bacteria in your mouth multiply. That’s part of why you may wake up with a mossy taste in your mouth and plant-wilting morning breath.
Washing those bacteria right out with fluoride toothpaste rids your teeth of plaque and bacteria. It also coats your enamel with a protective barrier against acid in your food.
There are many different types of germs that live in the mouth. Although most of these germs are not harmful, there are some that can attack and damage the oral tissues. This happens when the foods consumed through the day are left on the surfaces of the teeth.
Bacteria feed on these foods and produce plaque, a substance that sticks on the surfaces of the teeth. If the plaque is not removed over a long period of time, it can cause gum disease and makes you suffer from cavities as well.
This is why dental professionals often advise their patients to brush their teeth twice every day after taking their meals
However, another important function of saliva is to neutralize acid in the mouth that is present when you are eating. These acids can damage your teeth, but the first line of defense against acidic damage is actually to allow your saliva sufficient time to neutralize those acids.
Because saliva helps to neutralize this acid after eating, ideally you need to wait for at least thirty minutes before brushing your teeth after meals. This gives saliva enough time to neutralize the acid.
What should you do?
Instead of rushing to brush your teeth immediately after a meal, you should rinse your mouth using an antibacterial mouthwash or water. This will help you get rid of loose food particles as you wait for the acid to be naturally neutralized by saliva so that you can brush without harming your teeth.
Conversely, when you brush your teeth immediately after meals, the “un-neutralized” acid that is present in your mouth will damage the surfaces of your teeth. This means that by removing your saliva as you brush, the acids from your food and digestive processes are left in your mouth, and unwittingly, you will be destroying your teeth thinking that you are doing what needs to be done to protect them. Additionally, brushing your teeth immediately after eating may actually cover your teeth with remnants of acidic food particulate.
When is it best to brush your teeth?
Is it healthier for your teeth and gums to offend your coworkers at the conference table with your “after lunch halitosis?” Nobody likes to be neither the bearer of bad news nor the bearer of bad breath. It’s the same level of awkwardness that happens when you have to tell a friend that they need to put on some (or add more) deodorant.
Some experts say brushing before you eat breakfast is vastly more beneficial for your teeth and overall oral health. While nobody wants to drink their morning orange juice when they still have the taste of fluoride in their mouth, it’s possible that the best thing for your teeth may be to do just that.
According to Mayo Clinic, you should avoid brushing your teeth after eating for at least thirty minutes if you’ve just consumed something acidic. Breakfast foods and drinks, such as toast, citrus, and coffee, tend to fit the criteria for acidic food.
Brushing first thing in the morning also jump-starts your saliva production. Remember that your saliva helps your food break down and naturally kills harmful bacteria in your mouth, so optimizing your saliva production by brushing your teeth before breakfast ensures that your body’s own natural defense system is more readily available to aid in the protection of your enamel.
So, brushing may be particularly bad for your teeth right after breakfast or any meal, and waiting between thirty minutes to an hour after eating to brush your teeth is the best way to be sure that you’re protecting your teeth and not tampering with your enamel.
The American Dental Association recommends you wait about an hour after eating before grabbing a toothbrush, especially after having acidic foods.
Acidic foods and drinks can leave your enamel soft and vulnerable, and if you brush your teeth before your enamel has had a chance to harden itself, you may end up brushing your enamel right off. That’s why most dentists advise waiting 30 minutes after consuming acidic foods or beverages before you brush your teeth – after the 30-minute mark, your enamel has re-hardened and won’t be removed by brushing
Instead of brushing immediately, drink water or chew some sugar-free gum after eating to clean your teeth before you brush.
How Should You Brush?
Brushing your teeth properly is as important as (if not more important) than when you brush. Whether you’re using an electronic or a standard plastic-handled toothbrush with nylon bristles, you can follow the steps below:
- Wet your brush head with a small amount of water to lubricate it. Add a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a pea.
- Brush your teeth at an angle so you can get hard-to-reach spots. Brush for two minutes, making sure you’re brushing your front teeth, the sides of your teeth, and the chewing surface of your teeth.
- Brush your tongue to brush off any bacterial residue that has gotten on your tongue during the brushing process.
- Spit out any leftover toothpaste and rinse your mouth and tongue with water.
When Shouldn’t You Brush?
Brushing your teeth after a meal is a great way to remove plaque, but in some cases it can do more harm than good. Again if you’ve eaten something acidic, you’ll want to wait a full thirty to sixty minutes before you start brushing.
To help you determine what foods are considered acidic, here’s a list of some favorites that are among the most damaging foods for your tooth enamel:
- orange juice
- citrus fruit
- dried fruit
- pastries, cakes, cookies, pies, and other desserts
- soft drinks
- pickles, foods with vinegar
- sports beverages
- tomato-based pasta sauces
- sugar (brown, refined, or honey)
Achieving healthy teeth takes a lifetime of care. Even if you’ve been told that you have nice teeth, it’s crucial to take the right steps every day to take care of them and prevent problems.
Obviously, it is a good idea to brush your teeth after you eat. Just not always right after. And most definitely not immediately following an atomic cheeseburger.
But that’s gross, right? Well, your neighbors will surely think so.
So what can you do when you’ve chewed too much junk? Drink water. After every meal, no matter what it is, you can drink water and rinse your mouth. Always finish with water.
Then you can follow that water with some sugar-free chewing gum and brush those teeth after waiting an hour. Now, you’re good to go.