Everyone knows that you should brush your
teeth at least twice a day: once in the morning and once before bedtime. But
when it comes to your morning routine, is it better to brush before or after
The truth is that few studies have looked into this
question and their results have been mixed and limited, so there is not a
definitive answer, said Dr Apoena de Aguiar Ribeiro, a pediatric dentist and
microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But, she and
other dentists said, there are pros and cons for each option to keep in mind.
The case for
brushing before breakfast
For many people, breakfast
includes sugary carbohydrates, said Dr Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas, a dentist,
professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Michigan
School of Dentistry. And when you wake up in the morning, de Aguiar Ribeiro
added, bacterial levels in your mouth are at their peak — “that’s why we have
bad breath when we wake up”.
So a mouth rife with bacteria and a breakfast full
of sugary carbs means that conditions are perfect for the bacteria to flourish
and multiply. When this happens, they release acids that can wear down the
protective enamel on your teeth, making them more prone to cavities, de Aguiar
Ribeiro said. Brushing before breakfast clears that bacteria away, denying them
the opportunity to feed on your food.
Another reason to brush before breakfast is to
jump-start the production of saliva, de Aguiar Ribeiro added, which is one of
the most protective forces for your teeth. Saliva helps strengthen your teeth
by depositing minerals that bacteria may have eaten away overnight. It also
contains bicarbonate that helps to neutralize the acidity in your mouth. An
added bonus, she said, is that if your toothpaste contains fluoride, it will
make your teeth more resistant to decay by strengthening your enamel and
neutralizing the acids from breakfast.
The case for
brushing after breakfast
On the other hand, there are
arguments for waiting until after breakfast to brush, Gonzalez-Cabezas said.
“The reality is that most people don’t brush that
well,” he said, so even if you brush right before breakfast, you probably will
still have bacteria lingering in your mouth that could multiply and produce
acids during breakfast and for the rest of the day, so you may as well brush
after you eat to minimize that lingering food.
And, he said, the fluoride from your toothpaste will
work better throughout the day if it is not displaced by chewing food right
after you brush.
De Aguiar Ribeiro recommended that if you can, wait
at least 30 minutes after a meal to brush. If you want to get rid of lingering
breakfast bits before then, she suggested drinking or swishing water.
it is true that the bacteria present in your mouth right after waking up will
feast on your breakfast and produce damaging acids, Gonzalez-Cabezas said that
most people eat breakfast pretty quickly — usually completing their meal within
10 to 15 minutes. That is not enough time to do a ton of damage, he said, so
again, he believes the benefits of brushing after breakfast outweigh the
negative effects of whatever acids might be produced by bacteria while you are
The bottom line
Ultimately, the decision
boils down to what works for you, de Aguiar Ribeiro said, because the science
is sparse and “there is no consensus in the literature”.
Quinonez agreed: There is no proof either way, she
said, so all of the arguments are largely theoretical. “It’s highly debated and
it ultimately may not make a significant clinical difference,” she said.
In the end, Quinonez said, the most important
question to ask yourself is this: What brushing habit will make me most likely
to brush my teeth consistently? Once you have your answer, she said, work it
into your routine and stick with it.
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