For coffee lovers, the morning routine is a treasured ritual. But you may not realize that the order in which you drink your morning mug could be harming your dental health.
Coffee is known to stain teeth, and its acidity can directly erode tooth enamel. That’s why brushing your teeth is so important for counteracting your coffee intake. But dentists say there’s a preferred order for this ― and you might be doing it wrong.
Why you should brush your teeth BEFORE drinking coffee
Brushing your teeth before you have coffee removes plaque buildup and makes it more difficult for stains to adhere, said Christina Meiners, a dentist at the nonprofit CommuniCare Health Centers in San Antonio. “If you keep it nice and clean, then there’s less for [coffee] to grab onto your teeth or adhere to,” Meiners said.
You may have assumed that brushing your teeth right after drinking coffee is a proactive step to help keep them clean, but it can actually make things worse. Because coffee is acidic, brushing your teeth immediately after coffee will weaken your enamel, the outer layer of teeth that protects them from physical and chemical damage.
Meiners’ morning routine is to brush her teeth first thing in the morning, then have her coffee, and then rinse and swish her mouth with water to help neutralize the acidity level in her mouth.
“You don’t want to be brushing when your environment is acidic, it’s chemically abrasive,” said Sonya Krasilnikov, a dentist at New York City’s Dental House. Meiners said that when you do, “you’re brushing more acid onto your teeth, and that can actually cause them to break down faster, cause more sensitivities.”
If you happen to do this every now and then, don’t panic. “If you do it once, it’s probably just a mirco-abrasion, so once is OK. But yes, if it’s habitually done, it’s going to be a chronic thing where you’re wearing away your enamel,” said Siama Muhammad, a dentist at Brooklyn Oak Dental Care.
If you didn’t brush your teeth before drinking coffee, take these steps to protect them
If you do want that clean-mouth feeling after having a cup of coffee, dentists recommend waiting at least half an hour before brushing.
“Your saliva neutralizes your pH in your mouth,” Krasilnikov said. “In a half-hour your mouth is back to its healthy state where … the pH should be in your mouth, and brushing and everything else is perfectly safe. A half-hour is usually a good amount of time.”
Alternatively, chew sugar-free gum. “I recommend at least chewing on some sugar-free gum to stimulate your natural protector, which is your own saliva. It acts as a buffer in that acidic environment,” Meiners said. She recommends picking sugar-free gum with xylitol, because it’s a low-calorie sugar substitute that inhibits bacteria growth.
And in the meantime, while you wait to brush your teeth, you can still wash out the coffee taste. “I would just do a vigorous rinse with plain water,” Muhammad said, noting that flossing followed by a vigorous rinse would be ideal. “That can really help your mouth feel cleaner and help freshen the breath.”