If you wake up with morning dragon breath (raises hand), you might make a beeline for the bathroom to brush your teeth ASAP.
Instantly, your breath feels fresher and you're ready to greet the day. The downside is that if you eat breakfast or drink coffee after, you'll leave the house — or hop on your first Zoom call — with mucky java breath and possibly food stuck in your teeth.
That's why you might want to consider changing your a.m. routine to brush after breakfast, if possible. No, really — a lot of dentists agree on this one.
And Frank A. Scannapieco, DMD, PhD, chair of oral biology at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, also recommends holding off on brushing until after you've chowed down: "Brushing after breakfast helps simply because doing so will cleanse your mouth and freshen your breath, so it makes sense," he says.
As long as you're brushing at night before you go to bed, "I'd say the preferred time to brush in the morning is after breakfast," Nammy Patel, DDS, of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Leaving food particles from the morning meal allows sugar and carbs — prime food for bacteria — to stick around longer, which could encourage bacteria to grow. She advises eating your meal, sipping on water to rinse your mouth out, waiting a few minutes and then heading to the sink to brush.
Does It Matter What You're Eating for Breakfast?
Drinking orange juice or eating citrus fruits like grapefruit delivers an acid hit to teeth. Over time, this acid can wear away teeth, Dr. Scannapieco says, and some people believe that brushing immediately after can worsen the problem.
So, if you're sipping OJ or digging into half of a grapefruit for breakfast, are you doing irreparable harm if you brush after? The short answer is no, Dr. Scannapieco says. Your saliva neutralizes acids and can also remineralize your teeth.
"Your body has natural defense mechanisms in place," he says. Erosion problems pop up when the acid exposure is chronic, say, if you're someone who sucks on limes or lemons throughout the day.
One caveat: If you have dry mouth (a side effect of certain medications), then you don't have this natural protective mechanism. "People with dry mouth should be more attentive to their oral hygiene and avoid exposing their teeth to acids," Dr. Scannapieco says. Talk to your dentist about what's right for you.
For those with dry mouth, Dr. Patel advises brushing after waking up to moisten the mouth and start the salivation process, and then again after breakfast to get the mouth clean.
OK, but I Don’t Eat Breakfast. What Now?
Maybe you skip breakfast because you're not hungry, don't like eating early or are following intermittent fasting (IF). In this case, when should you brush? Is it when you get up, or should you wait until after your first meal of the day, which is typically lunch?
Well, you don't really want to walk around with wonky breath. Dr. Patel recommends that the breakfast-skipping crowd brush their teeth when they wake up to clean their mouth. After your first meal — whenever that happens to be — she advises flossing to target the bacteria underneath the gums.
If you're the type of person who likes to brush your teeth, feel free to brush after each meal.
Real Talk: The Best Time to Brush Is Whenever Works for You
While three out of three dentists we interviewed may say the best time to brush in the morning is after breakfast, you can certainly take this advice with a grain of salt.
Overall, when it comes to brushing, it's less important exactly when you do it. "Getting into the habit of brushing before or after [breakfast] is better than not brushing at all," Dr. Scannapieco says.
In other words, if one works better with your schedule, lifestyle or ability to remember to brush, then that's the best choice for you.
What's more, if you've only been brushing one time a day — say, before bed — getting yourself to do it twice per day (at any time) will be a win for your mouth, Dr. Patel says.