Brushing immediately after meals? You may want to wait.

We’ve all heard that it’s best to brush our teeth after meals. But in some cases, did you know it is best to hold off brushing, at least temporarily?

“We definitely recommend holding off on brushing after consuming anything acidic, whether it’s fruit, soda, juice, or sour candy,” says Ezzard Rolle, DDS, assistant professor of dental medicine at Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine.

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“The reason for that is that when acids are in the mouth, they weaken the enamel of the tooth, which is the outer layer of the tooth,” Rolle says. Brushing immediately after consuming something acidic can damage the enamel layer of the tooth.

Waiting about 30 minutes before brushing allows tooth enamel to remineralize and build itself back up.

But Rolle says you can do something to help your teeth in the meantime: “After eating or drinking something acidic, I always recommend rinsing with or drinking water, which starts the remineralization process of the enamel.”

Soft bristles please

When you do start brushing your teeth, your teeth and gums will be happiest, Rolle says, if you choose a toothbrush with soft bristles.

“There’s a common misconception that a hard toothbrush cleans better than a soft toothbrush, but this is just not true,” Rolle says. Not only does a soft brush clean just as effectively, it’s also better for your gums and teeth. Hard toothbrushes can be a bit abrasive and wear down the enamel on your teeth. They can also cause the gums to recede, which can lead to sensitive teeth.

Rolle also recommends using gentle, but firm, pressure when brushing: “You always want to avoid brushing too hard because that’s also abrasive to the gum tissues and teeth.”

Get the right angle

When brushing, position the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums, hold the toothbrush parallel to the teeth, and brush in a circular motion. “This technique is very effective at cleaning the teeth,” Rolle says, “but is also very friendly to the gums and teeth.”

Brush—and floss—twice a day

Not only should you be brushing your teeth at least twice a day, Rolle recommends flossing twice a day as well.

“Ideally, you would brush and floss after each meal, but that may not be very realistic for people with busy jobs or hectic schedules,” he says. “So we recommend at least brushing and flossing twice a day, and ideally one of those times will be before bed.”

Flossing is a very effective method of cleaning in between the teeth, areas that toothbrushes don’t often clean effectively. “Use a long piece—about 18 inches—and bring the floss down in between the teeth, make a C shape with the floss, and hug each tooth,” Rolle says.

Brush by quadrant

Brushing for two minutes is important because it ensures that each section of the mouth is cleaned adequately.

It helps to picture your mouth as four quadrants: upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left. “If you can brush for about 30 seconds in each section, that usually ensures that all parts of the mouth are equally and effectively cleaned,” Rolle says.

Go electric, if possible

Electric toothbrushes have come a long way, Rolle says, and he’s a fan.

Some advanced models will give you analytics on your brushing and tell you if you’re brushing too hard or long enough.

“The main advantage of an electric toothbrush is that it does a lot of the brushing motion for you,” Rolle says.  “All you have to do is just hold a toothbrush to the teeth and it will perform the correct brushing motions.”

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