Should you wait to eat after brushing your teeth?

By: Stefani Newman  | 

Chew a piece of sugarless gum for about 20 minutes after eating, then brush. No smacking please.
Chew a piece of sugarless gum for about 20 minutes after eating, then brush. No smacking please.
Jonathan Kantor/Lifesize/Getty Images

There's no doubt about the importance of brushing your teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you brush your teeth twice a day with ADA-recommended fluoride toothpaste; thoroughly floss after brushing; eat a balanced diet; and visit a dentist regularly for checkups [source: ADA. After you brush, however, can you go right back to eating, or do you need to wait a while?

Everything you put in your mouth comes into contact with the enamel that covers your teeth. Tooth enamel has a tough yet extremely important job: It's the clear, hard covering that protects your teeth from all the food and drinks that pass over them, as well as the general biting and chewing you do every day. Tooth enamel is, in fact, the strongest substance in the human body [source: Kam].

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With such a heavy workload, it's easy to see why tooth enamel needs to be protected -- the constant punishing of your enamel without proper maintenance can produce disastrous results for your teeth. If you eat a diet high in sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods and don't properly care for your mouth, you're putting your enamel at risk for erosion from bacteria. Significant erosion of your enamel can lead to problems such as sensitivity to hot and cold, discoloration of teeth, susceptibility to chipped teeth, cavities and tooth decay [source: Kam].

Dr. Douglas Rolfe, a dentist in Boca Raton, Fla., explained, "Any food or drink with a low pH [acidic] can cause enamel erosion. Colas are the gold standard," he explains. "[Sugary] energy drinks and many commercial iced teas may be worse and are growing in popularity. Soft, high-carbohydrate, sugar-filled foods linger a long time on the teeth, which do more harmful than protein-rich or fatty foods." Since enamel isn't a living substance, once it begins to break down from teeth, it has to be artificially replaced by your dentist [source: ADA].

Now you know why your tooth enamel needs to be protected. You still have to eat though, so let's see if there's a correlation regarding tooth enamel, eating and the length of time you wait to brush your teeth.

How long should you wait between eating and brushing?

So, you've just brushed your teeth. Your mouth feels refreshed and your breath smells minty -- and you're hungry. Should you wait to eat after you brush? Will food damage your teeth you've just brushed? The general consensus from dentists we surveyed is no, you don't have to wait -- but there are some exceptions. Dr. Jeremy Rosenberg, a dentist in Atlanta, Ga., said, "Technically, the average person doesn't have to wait to eat after brushing. For someone who is cavity-prone, however, the fluoride in the toothpaste does benefit the enamel of the teeth. Once you eat though, most of the fluoride will be washed away."

The cycle of eating and brushing can get tricky if you don't need to wait to eat after you brush, and then you brush after you eat -- over and over again during the day. If you eat sugary or acidic foods or drinks, the enamel on your teeth will be softened. Therefore, brushing right after you eat may not be wise. Dr. Rolfe explains that if you just had an acidic or sugary snack, you should gargle with a fluoride mouthwash and not brush your teeth. The damaging food or drink will soften the teeth surface, so if you brush right away, you will actually abrade a lot of tooth structure in the process. Dr. Rolfe recommends rinsing with water after eating, but wait for about 20 minutes before brushing.

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Dr. Rosenberg explains that chewing sugarless gum always helps if you can't brush for a while because it stimulates saliva production, which helps to neutralize acids and fight bacteria in your mouth. Flossing or rinsing will also help dislodge any food particles that may become stuck between your teeth, and tongue scrapers are a good tool for removing bacteria that are stuck to the surface of your tongue. When you do brush your teeth, Dr. Rosenberg also suggests you gently clean the roof of your mouth and gums to remove extra bacteria.

Originally Published: Sep 7, 2011

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More Great Links

  • American Dental Association (ADA). "Brushing Your Teeth (Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums)." (Aug. 29, 2011) http://www.ada.org/5624.aspx?currentTab=1
  • American Dental Association (ADA). "Oral Health Topics: Tooth." (Aug. 29, 2011) http://www.ada.org/3057.aspx?currentTab=1
  • Kam, Katherine. "Tooth Enamel Erosion." WebMD. (Aug. 29, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/tooth-enamel-protection
  • O'Hare, Nick. "Why does orange juice taste so awful after you brush your teeth?" The Sunday Times. Sept. 27, 2007. (Sept. 3, 2011) http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2538282.ece
  • Rolfe, Doug, D.D.S. Personal Correspondence. Aug. 30, 2011.
  • Rosenberg, Jeremy, D.D.S. Personal Correspondence. Aug. 31, 2011.