If you ask around, the majority of people will tell you they have been told since early childhood that it is important to brush their teeth immediately following a meal or a beverage other than water. This is based on the logic that the sugar in the foods and drinks we consume is metabolized by the bacteria in our mouths, which produces acid, which in turn eats away at our tooth enamel. And while this is true, it isn’t the whole truth. Read on to learn why.
The “brushing after eating” myth
Many people brushing right after eating because they believe it will remove the sugars and therefore help prevent excessive tooth decay. This idea makes a lot of sense and sounds great in theory, which is why so many people seem to stick with it into adulthood. However, it turns out that this common sense idea may not make much of a difference after all, and may actually be doing damage.
While sugary food and drinks are certainly not great for your teeth, the sugar content is only one factor contributing to tooth decay. The food and beverages we consume that have a high sugar content also tend to be very acidic in make up. What this means for your dental health is that even if you do brush your teeth and even if the bacteria does not metabolize the sugar and create acid as a result, what you have just eaten is often times acidic enough that trying to prevent the relatively small amount of acid (that would be produced by the bacteria) really doesn’t make much of a difference.
That is not all, though. Brushing your teeth right after consuming something acidic actually contributes to the erosion of your tooth enamel. It is the same idea as etching glass: to do this, you apply an acid to it and then use something abrasive to scratch at it. In the case of your teeth, the sugary substance provides the acid and your toothbrush is abrasive enough to scratch and damage your enamel. Since some sodas and other tasty treats can have a pH as low as 2.5 (with 7 as a neutral pH), there is the possibility of doing a significant amount of damage.
What should you do instead?
Instead of brushing right after eating or drinking something with a lot of sugar, Dentists suggest waiting roughly one half hour to give your saliva time to neutralize the acid. Of course, it is best to avoid these sugary and acidic foods and drinks in the first place, but when you do indulge, rinse your mouth with water or use an antibacterial mouthwash to neutralize the acid sooner.
Even if you do take this advice and re-structure your dental routine to minimize the negative effects of sugary foods and beverages on your oral health, you need to supplement with regular checkups to make sure your teeth stay in good shape. Going for a dental check up once every six months is recommended by the American Dental Association. Next time you get the urge to brush after you eat or drink something with high sugar content, remember: rinse, don’t brush.