Of course, it’s very important to brush your teeth. Gently polishing your enamel allows you to remove plaque, the sticky film of debris, saliva, and bacteria that can lead to cavities. It also improves your breath and helps your teeth stay pearly white. The general rule for brushing is that you should do it at least twice a day for at least two minutes. But when should you do it? This can be a point of controversy even amongst dental professionals, so it can be hard for patients to sort out. In the following blog, Dr. Cindy Flanagan and our team answer the question: “should I brush my teeth before or after eating?”
The Most Common Answer: “After”
Most people probably assume that the obvious answer to this question is “after.” You’ve eaten your meal, gotten food on your teeth, and it’s time to scrub it off. This has long been the logic behind brushing, and it does make sense. Brushing can help you immediately eliminate the particulate matter left on your teeth. Colgate Oral Care Center points out: “certain foods and drinks—especially those high in carbohydrates and sugars—spur the creation of certain bacteria in your mouth that attack your tooth enamel for at least twenty minutes after you eat a meal or have a snack. By brushing right after you eat, you will get rid of bacteria before they attack your tooth enamel.” Brushing after can help you ensure that bacteria have less to feed on, which in theory should protect your teeth. However, there are certain dental dynamics that can actually make “after” the wrong answer.
Recently, dental professionals have realized that it may be better for your smile to brush before you eat, as counterintuitive as this seems. In her RDH [Registered Dental Hygienist] Mag article, “Brush before eating,” Trisha E. O’Hehir provides two basics reasons that brushing before is actually the right way to go:
1. Bacteria move far too quickly to be stopped by brushing. She writes: “acid production occurs within seconds of bacteria’s exposure to sucrose [sugar], and salivary pH drops from a neutral of 7 to acidic 4.5 [which could allow for enamel erosion] within just five minutes. It then takes 30 minutes to return to 7; so waiting till the meal is over to brush allows the bacteria ample time to produce acid.” In many cases, she argues, brushing after a meal is simply too little, too late to really prevent cavities.
2. Brushing right away after eating certain foods can actually hurt your enamel. O’Hehir cites a study: “Dr. Addy and a team of British researchers at the dental school in Bristol showed that enamel erosion caused by organe juice increases the susceptibility of enamel to toothpaste abrasion. The acid softens the tooth surface…Even brushing without toothpaste after ingesting orange juice resulted in loss of enamel and dentin. These researchers conclude that brushing immediately after consuming acidic beverages should be avoided.” O’Hehir asserts that it’s always better to brush before, since this allows you to stop plaque in its tracks rather than giving bacteria any opportunity to munch on your lunch, but it is particularly vital not to brush after eating if you’re ingesting anything acidic.
All in all, there are some very valid arguments for brushing before, although this concept can take a little getting used to. Even Colgate Oral Care Center agrees: “it’s a good idea to brush your teeth before eating an acidic food and to drink a glass of water when you are finished to wash away the acids.”
Setting Your Schedule
After hearing for decades that you should “brush after every meal,” it may be challenging to create a new normal for your oral hygiene. Of course, unless you’ve just eaten an acidic meal or downed an orange juice, we’d always rather have you brushing than not, regardless if it’s before or after a meal.
Generally, Dr. Flanagan and our team suggest that you try to brush before big meals so that you can remove existing plaque, so that bacteria never get the opportunity to feed on the sugars and carbohydrates you eat. Of course, if you forget to brush before, you’re certainly encouraged to clean your teeth after (providing you wait at least a half an hour if you’ve had something particularly acidic). At your next preventive care appointment, we can provide further advice and help you devise strategies that suit your schedule.
Do You Want More Dental Hygiene Tips?
Dr. Flanagan and our team would be delighted to assist you! To learn more and schedule our next appointment, contact our Houston dental practice today.