Why you shouldn't brush your teeth after breakfast

Sugary foods and poor brushing habits are leaving Australians with decay.
Sugary foods and poor brushing habits are leaving Australians with decay. 

If you started the day with a green juice, you may be feeling virtuous - but have you spared a thought for what it's doing to your teeth? Thought not.

According to 2016 research by the Australian Dental Association, over 30 per cent of Australians only brush their teeth once a day. Bad habits are starting even earlier, with half of six-year-old children having experienced some form of tooth decay.

The culprit? As always, sugar. But don't be fooled into thinking that chocolate and fizzy drinks are solely to blame. Naturally sweetened "healthy" snack bars, fruit juices and smoothies that are the preserve of the middle-class store cupboard can be just as bad for your family's teeth.

As fully-functioning adults, keeping our teeth clean was one area we imagined we had covered. Taught as children, brushing our teeth is a ritual we all perform without question - right? So how wrong can we be getting it? Very, it would seem.

The older you get, the harder tooth decay is to reverse. Worse still, experts now believe that poor dental hygiene can lead to a whole host of seemingly unconnected mid-life diseases, including pancreatic cancer.

So how does the layman cut through the headlines screaming about the merits of using a traditional or electric toothbrush, brushing with cold or warm water, the benefits of flossing or using mouthwash?

Here, then, is a definitive guide to how to really look after your teeth...

Go electric

Your dentist wasn't exaggerating: an electric toothbrush is infinitely more effective than a regular

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brush. The good news is you don't need a top-of-the-range one to get the job done, but you might need to change the way you brush to feel the benefit.

Dentist Dr Toby Edwards-Lunn says that the sticky plaque on your teeth comes away with much less effort with an electric toothbrush, and you don't need to spend too big.

"You could spend £150 ($266) on one with a sensitivity function, a tongue-brushing action, and an app for your phone so you can find out if you're brushing the right areas of your mouth and where you're missing," he explains. "But a £30 ($53) model - such as something from the Oral B's 2000 range - will do fine. You just need one with a two-minute timer", which is the minimum recommended brushing time. (Note that the Oral B 2000 range retails for $89+ in Australia.)

Studies have confirmed that brushes with rotating heads are more likely to reach every bit of your mouth than manual brushing - just as long as you follow a few rules. Rather than the traditional method of up-and-down brushing, hold the rotating head still on the tooth for a couple of seconds, before moving slowly to the next. It's recommended that you mentally divide up your mouth into quartiles and spend at least half a minute on each zone. "You can get electric brushes that buzz every 30 seconds as a reminder," says Dr Edwards-Lunn. "Just make sure your toothbrush is fully charged at all times: the speed of its head rotation is key."

Steer clear of fancy toothbrushes

If you prefer a manual toothbrush, pay attention to the bristles. Using a "Firm" toothbrush may

deliver a more satisfying, deep-clean feel, but studies show they can be abrasive and contribute to enamel erosion. Instead, dentists recommend sticking to toothbrushes with "Medium" or "Soft" bristles. Small-headed brushes are also preferable, as they can better reach all three external surfaces of your teeth - the outside, the inside and the biting surfaces. Just make sure to change it every three months.

Replacements for electric toothbrushes aren't as cheap as the analogue variety, but don't be dazzled by the entire range of orthodontic rotating brush heads on sale, says Dr Edwards-Lunn. "One with end-rounded bristles and a small head the size of a molar tooth with suffice for a few months."

Don't bother with mouthwash

"If you've got a good toothbrush and toothpaste, you don't need a mouthwash," says Dr Edwards-Lunn. "Use it to freshen up between brushes if you want to, but otherwise it's a waste of money."

In recent years, some experts have also argued that mouthwashes, which mostly all contain alcohol, could be a contributory factor to mouth cancer. But, Dr Edwards-Lunn says, while there has been no conclusive evidence to suggest as much, there is really no need to use it on a daily basis.

What's more, a new health study has suggested red wine could actually be beneficial to oral health, reducing the ability of plaque-causing bacteria to stick to the teeth and gums. Researchers found compounds from the drink, known as polyphenols, helped fend off harmful bacteria in the mouth. But before you start rinsing with pinot noir, bear in mind that the acidic nature of wine means it can damage the enamel.

Which is why you should...

...Never brush your teeth after a night out

The one occasion you should not brush your teeth before going to bed is after a spot of heavy carousing.

With that horrible furry feeling still on your teeth, Dr Edwards-Lunn explains that, rather than reaching for the toothbrush, the best course of action is to swill a little mouthwash and then brush in the morning. Otherwise, you could be doing more damage than good - especially if your alcoholic drink of choice was fizzy.

"If you have been on the prosecco, or spirits with a cola mixer, the surface of your teeth is going to have been softened by the drink's acidity. This is not the time to be brushing that softened enamel, as you risk causing permanent damage. If you want to freshen up before going to bed, this is one of the few times mouthwash is of any use at all."

Either floss every day or not at all

Flossing is, without doubt, the best way to release the plaque that builds up between your teeth. But if you aren't going to do it every single day without fail, Dr Edwards-Lunn says it isn't worth the effort at all.

"After 24 hours, plaque - that film you feel if you run your tongue around your mouth - is starting to do its damage. If you leave it two or three days between flosses, your gums will already have begun to react to that plaque, and that damage just carries on."

If realistically you're only ever going to be an occasional flosser, it's time to give up altogether, as you're not achieving a great deal by this sporadic flossing.

Never brush straight after breakfast

The time of day when you choose to brush is crucial. It should be the last thing you do before you go to sleep, but you should never, Dr Edwards-Lunn warns, wash your mouth out after brushing. Spit... and go to bed.

"That way, it stays on your teeth as you hit the pillow. It'll be in your mouth for around 20 minutes, really doing some good, remineralising your teeth."

Then, in the morning, resist the temptation to wait until after breakfast to brush your teeth - do it as soon as you wake up. "You'll have less plaque after brushing your teeth, which means fewer cavity-forming bugs. That way, when you sit down for breakfast, the risk of decay is lower."

Use sugar-free gum

The worst time to brush your teeth is immediately after drinking or eating anything acidic - so, instead of brushing, it's better to neutralise the acidity a different way. Drink or eat something which contains a high level of calcium and phosphate, such as cheese or a glass of milk, as they will help to reverse the damage being done to the outer surfaces of the teeth.

"Chewing sugar-free gum will also help by encouraging your mouth to generate more saliva, which in turn will start to neutralise the acidity in your mouth," says Dr Edwards-Lunn.

The Telegraph, London