Why Is the Right Time to Brush Your Teeth So Controversial?

brushing your teeth before eating breakfast man repeller


ne thing you can definitely file under Shit I Never Expected to Be True: the topic of whether you should brush your teeth before or after breakfast is hot, hot, hot. Like a tamale. Or Johnathan Taylor Thomas. I had no idea! Did you? I know now because I conducted a poll on Twitter two weeks ago while I was standing over my kitchen counter waiting for my daughters’ bottles to warm, passing the time by eating a banana, which maintained a sour, almost metallic after taste. Like if I was licking a ski lift bar that had just been wiped down with a sweaty Soul Cycle sock.

A banana had never tasted like that before. In a past as recent as the day prior, I quite liked bananas. Was it the time of day — 6:52 a.m.? The fact that I was waiting for a couple of bottles to warm? The imminent cries I was preparing to field? And then, eureka, there it was, a news flash: I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet. I know this because I could feel the film over them. I could taste it, actually, because it was comingling rather effortless-but-asinine-ly with the chalkiness of the mushy banana. As an aside, do you think I missed my calling as a copywriter for food descriptions? I mean, if you don’t want a banana after “the chalkiness of the mushy banana,” you must have terrible judgment.

Anyway, I launched a twitter poll to ask, Do you brush your teeth before or after breakfast? After 24 hours, the results were in and they were split. Banana split! 50/50. Chetzi/chetzi. That’s Hebrew for half. Subsequently, I did what any investigative journalist who is committed to thorough output and getting the facts straight in the most direct and reliable way possible would do and took a screenshot then posed the same question on Instagram, also using the poll functionality. To the chagrin of my logic, which believed that perhaps Instagram is a breeding ground for a different genre of brush-and-eater, the poll results indicated the split is as even at a rate of 51/49% brushing to eating.

But whatever, who cares, we do what we do and that’s that, right? Wrong! The most intriguing part of the whole fiasco is how passionate people are about when they choose to brush their teeth. This is not a case of passive preference. The first-thing-in-the-morning brushers genuinely do not trust those who brush after breakfast, and the post-breakfast-club have less respect for those who do it first thing. I know this to be true because I am a first-thing-brusher and when everyone, literally, everyone on Man Repeller’s edit team told me they do it post-breakfast, I fired them all.

Actually, to be honest, they resigned en masse because they lost any morsel of respect they’d previously held for me. Do you see what I mean?

When I told this to Dr. Paula Small, a New York-based dentist who is intimately familiar with the roof of my mouth, she said, “The conversation is passionate amongst those in the field as well; toothpaste is not necessary from a plaque removal point of view and [people are] not genetically susceptible to the same issues so there is no universal right or wrong.”

Deeply dissatisfying was her answer to the initial question of when, medically speaking, a person is supposed to brush their teeth in the morning. Frankly, I just wanted to know once and for all that first thing is the best thing but unfortunately, “There are good reasons to brush at either juncture.”

She cited “build up bacteria and plaque on all the surfaces in the mouth” upon wake up as a case for a first-thing brush but acknowledged food consumption as it lays “additional debris in the mouth,” as a case for after.

The common denominator present in both arguments is plaque, which is apparently the unsung hero of Reasons We Will Die, and which toothpaste incidentally does nothing to help us with. Apparently, you are supposed to floss before you brush your teeth because that is how the plaque is dug out. Did you know this? Recent medical literature even goes so far as to suggest that you floss twice, not once, twice a day. I think the last time I flossed I was 12. But I digress. To Dr. Small’s argument as it relates to brushing after breakfast, she cautioned, “Brushing too soon after consuming acidic food and drink, like coffee, orange juice, or sugary pastries and cereal, can cause faster breakdown of the enamel.” So! If you are among those I do not trust, you should wait 20-30 minutes. For all of us, at all times of day, Dr. Small recommends rinsing after every single meal.

As for her own proclivity, says Dr. Small: “I like brushing many times throughout the day.”

Spoken like a true dentist. Where do you net out?

Photo by Krista Anna Lewis.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

More from Archive