Epic Showdown - Brush Before or After Breakfast?

Updated: Oct 12

Whether you should brush before or after breakfast is a hotly contested debate with three different arguments for which one is the best. However, we would like to present a fourth option for when you should brush and why it is better than all three of the previous proposals.


Let's explore all four of these viewpoints with the reasoning behind them and the veracity for doing so.



The case for: Why it is better to brush before breakfast

Proponents for brushing before breakfast allege that it removes overnight plaque, gets rid of morning breath, and makes your breakfast taste better.

  • Removes overnight plaque. During your sleep, your saliva rate tends to decrease and that results in an increase in plaque accumulation. Therefore, you have a lot of plaque built up when you wake up in the morning. Brushing immediately after waking up will help remove all of the overnight plaque and bacteria that are in your mouth. From a holistic standpoint, it is certainly healthier to not eat breakfast with so much residual plaque in your mouth.

  • Morning breath. Due to a decrease in saliva while you're sleeping, the bacteria have an opportunity to not only create a lot of plaque but also produce a lot of volatile sulphur compounds (VSC). Studies have shown that morning breath contains an elevated concentration of volatile sulphur compounds. It is typically right when you wake up in the morning that concentrations of VSC and consequently morning breath is at its peak. No one wants to go about their day with stinky breath before breakfast.

  • Tastier breakfast. Ever notice how right when you wake up, your mouth is dry, there is plaque, and there is morning breath. All of those contribute to making your breakfast less appetizing than it otherwise could be. Food in the morning is definitely more enjoyable when your mouth is fresh and clean prior to eating.


Reasoning against brushing after breakfast

The primary reason for why advocates of brushing before breakfast are against doing so after breakfast is fear of brushing residual acids into your enamel. That is indeed a factual statement because the pH in your mouth does decrease into the acidic range after meals, especially if carbohydrates were consumed.


Studies have shown that the pH level did not vary much before and after a meal IF there were extremely little to no carbohydrates consumed. However, meals with carbohydrates did decrease the pH into the acidic range.


In conclusion, their fears are correct in that there ARE residual acids in your mouth if you consumed carbohydrates for breakfast. Consequently if you brushed your teeth immediately after breakfast, you would in fact be brushing all of that acid directly onto your enamel.


Examples of foods that are acidic or contain sugar:

  • Juice

  • Coffee

  • Dried fruits

  • Bread such as bagels and toast

  • Pastries such as croissants and muffins



How to use this method

  1. Brush for 2 minutes with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

  2. Rinse mouth out really well.

  3. Eat breakfast.




The case for: Why you should brush after breakfast

Proponents for brushing after breakfast allege that your teeth will get dirty afterwards if you brush before but you can keep your teeth clean longer if you do it after.

  • Teeth will be dirty after breakfast. If you brush before breakfast, your teeth will be dirty, full of plaque and food after you eat. Does it make sense to clean your teeth only to let it get dirty shortly after? That is one of the primary reasoning for brushing after you finish eating!

  • Keep teeth clean longer. If you brush after you eat breakfast, you have the opportunity to keep your teeth clean and plaque free until your next meal. The proposed advantage is that your teeth will stay clean for the extra few hours leading up to lunch. That certainly does make sense because your teeth will be exposed to a healthier oral environment for an additional few hours.

Overall, the reasoning behind doing it after having breakfast is due to practicality. If the purpose of brushing is to keep your teeth clean, why would you clean them first only to get them dirty right afterwards?


That idea is similar to showering before you go to the gym and workout. It makes more sense to workout first and then shower afterwards so that you can be clean.


Certainly can't argue with that logic so there is definitely merit in the case for brushing afterwards. We should definitely take into consideration this particular point of view.



How to use this method

  1. Eat breakfast.

  2. Brush for 2 minutes with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

  3. Rinse mouth out really well to get rid of residual toothpaste.




The case for: Do both but wait 30-60 minutes prior to brushing after breakfast

Advocates for doing both, want the best of both worlds by brushing before and after breakfast, because they recognize that there is merit in both view points. However, they needed to address the main issue of what prevents you from brushing immediately after breakfast, which was brushing acid into your enamel.


The solution: A clever work around to the problem was to simply wait 60 minutes before the after breakfast brushing. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), those 60 minutes of waiting allowed the mouth to naturally buffer the oral environment from an acidic pH back to a neutral one. Once the residual acids are gone, it would then be safe to brush your teeth without harming your enamel.


This is currently the prevailing argument and is what dental professionals recommend if you ever ask them whether you should you brush your teeth before or after breakfast.



How to use this method

  1. Brush your teeth for 2 minutes with toothpaste and a toothbrush.

  2. Rinse out really well.

  3. Eat breakfast.

  4. Wait 60 minutes.

  5. Brush your teeth for 2 minutes

  6. Rinse out really well.




Our proposal: Do both but rinse your mouth prior to brushing after breakfast

Our preventative dentist's protocol is to brush before eating and then using ACT anti-cavity fluoride rinse for 1 minute prior to brushing after breakfast. The rinsing will neutralize all of the acids in your mouth, thus making it safe for you to brush immediately afterwards. You need not worry about rubbing acid into your enamel and damaging your teeth since this method eliminates that risk.


How to use this method:

  1. Brush for 2 minutes with toothpaste and toothbrush.

  2. Rinse out thoroughly.

  3. Eat breakfast.

  4. Use ACT anticavity fluoride rinse for 1 minute.

  5. Brush for 2 minutes with toothpaste and toothbrush.

  6. Rinse out thoroughly.


Scientific evidence, which supports mouth rinses for raising pH levels

Studies have shown that using any type of mouth rinse after an acidic exposure such as consuming an acidic beverage, will raise the salivary pH back up to basic levels with one minute.


This is a chart of salivary pH after drinking a can of coca-cola (2.37 pH) and what rinsing with 5 different mouth rinses will do to buffer that acidity:


The study started with drinking a can of coca-cola, which has a very acidic pH of 2.37; Researchers then tested 5 different mouth rinses to see how effective they were at neutralizing the acid from the coke.


These were the 5 mouth rinses used:

  • Distilled water, pH = 5.5

  • ACT, pH = 6.0

  • Listerine, pH = 5.5

  • Chlorhexidine, pH = 5.75

  • CariFree CTx4, pH = 10.5


Notable results of the study:

  • All 5 mouth rinses increased the pH after 1 minute post-rinse.

  • Surprisingly, Listerine raised the pH the most 1 minute after the rinsing.

  • All mouth rinses' elevated pH declined over time after that 1 minute mark.

  • However, ACT rinse maintained the most basic pH 20 minutes after rinsing.

Conclusion of the study was that ACT was the best rinse to use after acid exposure.


Here is a chart of the pH of some common mouthwashes:

chart of pH levels of common mouthwashes


Rinsing with Listerine will raise pH after acid exposure

We're incredibly intrigued by the fact that Listerine can raise the pH level of your saliva after acidic exposure because Listerine has an acidic pH of 5.5 to begin with. Logically speaking, that is a little bit of an anomaly because how can an acidic rinse raise the pH of your mouth? That was the question that we had so we looked into additional studies to see if it supported it.


We found an additional two studies, which also supported the fact that Listerine can raise the pH level after an acidic exposure.

  • This study showed that Listerine raised the pH more than simply rinsing with water after consuming an acidic food!

  • This second study, which was by Listerine showed that Listerine did indeed increase the pH more than plain water.

Here is the chart from the second study demonstrating the pH raising ability of rinsing with Listerine:

chart - Listerine effect on mouth pH after rinsing

That brings us to a total of at least 3 studies which support that Listerine can surprisingly raise the pH of your mouth despite being acidic itself. However, it seems like the ACT mouth rinse is still superior since it maintains that elevated pH level for even 20 minutes after rinsing.




The Verdict - So, Should I brush my teeth before or after breakfast?

The best thing to do is to follow our protocol because we have scientific evidence supporting it. That means you should brush before breakfast and then rinse with a solution of your choice for 1 minute before brushing again. This method allows you to have the best of both worlds by brushing before and brushing after while eliminating the 60 minute wait time after eating breakfast.


That simple act of rinsing for 1 minute eliminates the risk of brushing acid onto your enamel and therefore causing damage. The acid erosion damage to your enamel was the main concern for the advocates for brushing before breakfast.


One very important point that is often glossed over for the wait 60 minutes and then brush after breakfast is the simple fact that you're allowing your teeth to rest in an acidic environment for 60 minutes. Even though you are not brushing the acid into your teeth, you're still letting your teeth bathe in an acidic environment for a total of 60 minutes. That is NOT healthy for your teeth.


Alternatively even if you didn't want to brush after your meal, if you rinsed your mouth immediately after eating, you can raise the pH out of the acidic zone. That will at least leave your mouth in a safer state.


Therefore, we have a couple of recommendations depending on how diligent or practical you wish to be concerning what you should do with your teeth and breakfast.

  • If you only want to brush once - we would recommend that you either brush before breakfast or wait 60 minutes and then brush after breakfast.

  • If you don't mind brushing twice - we would recommend that you brush before breakfast, eat and then rinse for 1 minute prior to brushing again.

That is basically everything that you need to know about what to do with your teeth and eating breakfast.


In case you were wondering if you should brush your teeth before or after coffee, the same exact principles in regards to breakfast also applies. We hope that helps you in deciding what you should do!


Author: Written by Dr David Chen, a dentist in long island city.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!