If you ask the average person whether it is better to brush your teeth before or after meals, most people would probably say after. The reasoning is simple: brushing after meals removes food particles and freshens your breath. What most people don’t realize, however, is that brushing right after eating can actually damage your teeth. It matters not so much if you brush before or after eating, but what is important is that if you brush after a meal, you should not brush too soon.
When we eat, especially sugary foods, the sugars become acids on our teeth. Acids wear down tooth enamel. For about half an hour after eating a meal, your teeth are in a weakened state from the acids. Tooth enamel remineralizes or hardens during this time, but brushing while it’s trying to build itself back up can just cause more damage.
Brushing to remove food particles and bacteria twice a day is important to reduce the risk of gum disease, but as long as you are brushing at least two times every day and avoiding brushing within half an hour of eating, you can brush whenever it is convenient for you. Some people don’t like to brush before a meal because the minty taste of the toothpaste interferes with the taste of their food. Toothpaste can also make food taste bad because it contains sodium laureth sulfate. This ingredient is responsible for the foaming action of toothpaste in the mouth; it is the same ingredient that makes shampoo lather up. Toothpaste does not need SLS to work, so using a brand of toothpaste that does not contain SLS can make eating after brushing more pleasing.
If you do choose to brush before eating, you can help to eliminate food particles and bacteria with a mouth rinse after the meal. Chewing sugarless gum after meals can also stimulate saliva, which helps to wash away acids.
Remember that plaque builds up throughout the day, and at night when we sleep. This is the reason most people experience “morning breath,” and this is another reason that brushing before breakfast is beneficial. A good morning routine could be to brush, eat, and then rinse with mouthwash. If you really prefer to brush after eating, try to wait half an hour or at least 20 minutes. You should also always use fluoride toothpaste no matter when you brush, to keep your tooth enamel strong.