When you brush your teeth, you help remove food and plaque — a sticky white film that forms on your teeth and contains bacteria. After you eat a meal or snack that contains sugar, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated attacks can break down tooth enamel and lead to cavities. Plaque that isn't removed can also harden into tartar, making it harder to keep teeth clean.
In choosing when to brush your teeth, you might also consider your diet. If you've eaten an acidic food or drink, avoid brushing your teeth right away. These acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can remove enamel. If you know you're going to eat or drink something acidic, brush your teeth beforehand.
In addition to brushing your teeth, the American Dental Association recommends that you:
- Floss daily
- Drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are irregular or frayed
- Schedule regular dental checkups
Certain foods and drinks - especially those high in carbohydrates and sugars - spur the creation of certain bacteria in your mouth that attack your tooth enamel for at least twenty minutes after you eat a meal or have a snack. By brushing right after you eat, you will get rid of bacteria before they attack your tooth enamel.
For the best results, you should use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste which contains fluoride to prevent tooth decay and triclosan to reduce plaque and gingivitis. It works double duty - getting rid of plaque and preventing tooth decay - to ensure that your teeth stay squeaky clean after you eat.
You should know, however, that brushing your teeth after eating can sometimes affect your tooth enamel. If you've consumed anything acidic, you should avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes. Foods containing citric acid, like oranges, grapefruits and lemons, weaken tooth enamel. Brushing too soon after eating them can damage the enamel in its weakened state.
Consequently, it's a good idea to brush your teeth before eating an acidic food and to drink a glass of water when you are finished to wash away the acids. As an alternative to waiting to brush your teeth, try eating nutritious foods that are low in carbohydrates and sugar after eating something acidic. This will help reduce the harmful acids that such foods can create.
In addition, according to the American Dental Association, prolonged exposure to phosphoric acid, which can be found in soft drinks like soda and diet soda, can erode hard tissues from the tooth surface. Acid erosion causes permanent damage to your teeth. To keep acid erosion to a minimum, limit snacking between meals and be mindful of consumption of soft drinks and sugary snack foods.