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Should you brush your teeth before or after breakfast?

A close up image of a smiling woman squeezing toothpaste onto a toothbrush

It can be a hotly contested debate, but we brush up on the pros and cons of cleaning your teeth before or after your morning meal

We all know that brushing your teeth twice a day is the goal – but should you brush your teeth as soon as you wake up? Or is it better to wait until after breakfast, so you can start your day with a fresh-tasting mouth, free from the remnants of your croissant and coffee?

If these questions are weighing on your mind as you squeeze out your toothpaste each morning, we’ve done a deep dive into these pressing dental concerns, speaking to leading dentist Dr Parneet Sehmi of Hermes London Dental Clinic to find out when exactly we should be brushing our teeth, and why it’s so important.

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Should you brush your teeth before or after breakfast?

Brushing your teeth before breakfast provides greater benefits for your oral health.

By brushing first thing in the morning, you kick start your salivary glands into action, allowing saliva to join forces with the fluoride in your toothpaste to kill off bacteria. The bacteria that causes plaque wreaks havoc overnight, so it’s best to remove that buildup as soon as possible.

Most importantly, brushing your teeth before breakfast adds a protective layer over your tooth enamel, effectively preparing your mouth for eating

What happens if you brush your teeth after breakfast? 

“It may seem like common sense to brush your teeth soon after having breakfast,” says Dr Sehmi, “but brushing too soon after eating can damage the enamel.”

Damaged tooth enamel – Plenty of the foods we consume contain citric acid (your morning orange juice, for example) and “this acid can soften the protective coating of enamel which helps protect our teeth.” According to Dr Sehmi, brushing your teeth immediately after eating can easily damage your enamel, having already been weakened by those pesky acids.

Tooth erosion – Repeated damage of your enamel can result in the exposure of the dentine layer beneath, causing increased sensitivity, which can eventually lead to tooth erosion. A common misconception is that plaque is responsible for tooth erosion (also called acid erosion), but it’s actually due to consuming acidic foods and drinks.

Dental decay – The proliferation of bacteria in your mouth (as a result of not having brushed first thing) will react with the sugars present in the food consumed at breakfast and attack your teeth right after eating. This can cause dental decay.

This does not mean that you should refrain from brushing your teeth until the evening, however. If you prefer a post-meal brush, simply wait an hour after eating. You can then brush your teeth without worry of tooth damage: in that time, your saliva naturally dilutes the acidity and your mouth returns to a typical pH.

If you’re really keen to freshen your breath right after finishing your toast and coffee, “rinse food debris away with a glass of water”, Dr Sehmi tells us.

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What is the best time to brush your teeth? 

Surprisingly enough, it’s more important to brush your teeth in the evening than in the morning – so much so that the NHS specifically recommends an evening brushing session, along with the more arbitrary instruction to brush “one other time in the day”.

A smiling woman brushes her teeth in the mirror with an electric toothbrush

Brushing is actually more about removing plaque rather than any leftover food particles. Plaque’s sticky nature means it needs to be manually cleaned from the tooth’s surface – a simple swish-and-spit won’t cut it. And because plaque only takes a few days to harden and calcify into tartar (aka calculus), it’s important to remove plaque from our teeth every 12 hours or so.

To ensure you’re properly removing plaque from your teeth, try to stick to the following brushing techniques:

  • Brush for two minutes, spending around 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth.
  • Angle the toothbrush at 45 degrees, focusing more on the gumline than the teeth themselves. This is where plaque often resides.
  • Don’t brush too hard. This can irritate your gums and cause issues like receding gums down the line.

Of course, brushing your teeth is just one part of an oral health routine. For the best results, you should incorporate daily flossing, using one of the best water flossers will make this a breeze, and possibly use of a mouthwash, too.

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