Brushing your teeth before you eat breakfast may protect your tooth enamel and overall oral health, compared to brushing after eating. If you prefer doing it after each meal, you may want to wait about 30-60 minutes.

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The American Dental Association has long recommended that you brush your teeth twice a day for a full 2 minutes both times. But what these guidelines don’t recommend is when, exactly, to do your brushing.

To establish a regular brushing habit, many people brush their teeth at the same time each day. Brushing every morning and again at night before bedtime seems to be the standard for most people. This simple schedule builds brushing into a routine.

But what if you’ve been brushing your teeth at the wrong part of your morning routine?

Drinking your morning orange juice when you still have the taste of fluoride in your mouth may not be the most appealing, but it could be the best thing for your teeth.

There may actually be a scientific answer to this question. While you sleep, plaque-causing bacteria in your mouth multiply. That’s part of why you may wake up with a “mossy” taste and “morning breath.”

Washing those bacteria right out with fluoride toothpaste rids your teeth of plaque and bacteria. It also coats your tooth enamel with a protective barrier against acid in your food.

When you brush first thing in the morning, you also jump-start your saliva production. Your saliva helps your food break down and naturally kills harmful bacteria in your mouth.

One small study of 21 older adults showed that after brushing, study participants saw their saliva production jump for up to 5 minutes, something useful if you’re going to eat next.

If it works better for your morning routine to brush after breakfast, you can still do so — but here’s some information to keep in mind.

Waiting 30 minutes to an hour after eating to brush your teeth is the best way to ensure that you’re protecting your teeth and not tampering with your enamel, particularly if you consume something acidic. Breakfast foods and drinks such as toast, citrus, and coffee fit the criteria for acidic food.

Brushing immediately after eating breakfast may actually cover your teeth with remnants of acidic food, which weakens your enamel. Breakfast staples are some of the worst foods for your tooth enamel, including:

  • orange juice
  • citrus fruit
  • dried fruit
  • bread
  • pastries

So, brushing may be particularly bad for your teeth right after breakfast.

The American Dental Association recommends you wait 60 minutes after eating acidic foods.

Drinking water or chewing sugar-free gum after eating but before you brush is also a good idea.

Brushing your teeth properly is as important as (if not more important) than when you brush.

Whether you’re using an electric toothbrush or a standard manual toothbrush with nylon bristles, you can follow the steps below:

  1. Wet your brush head with a small amount of water to lubricate it. Add a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a pea.
  2. Brush your teeth at an angle so you can get hard-to-reach spots. Brush for 2 minutes, ensuring you’re brushing your front teeth, the sides of your teeth, and the chewing surface of your teeth.
  3. Brush off the bacterial residue from your tongue that may have accumulated during the brushing process.
  4. Spit out any leftover toothpaste.

When you’re looking to protect your tooth enamel, brushing right after you wake up in the morning is better than brushing your teeth after breakfast.

If you have to brush your teeth after breakfast, try to wait at least 30 minutes before you brush.

Brushing in the morning, whenever you’re able to do it, is still better than skipping brushing your teeth at all.