In theory, brushing your teeth after coffee to combat stains and get rid of the dreaded coffee breath makes sense. But, according to dentists, doing so isn’t such a good idea because it can damage your teeth.
Below, dentist Dr. Sharon Huang, DDS, of Les Belles NYC, a female-founded and led dentistry practice in Manhattan, shares the details, including how long to wait before brushing your teeth after drinking coffee, how to freshen your mouth while you wait, and general oral health best practices for coffee drinkers.
“Foods and drinks that are high in acid—coffee is one of them—demineralize the teeth, or soften the enamel of your teeth,” Dr. Huang explains. “Doing anything with your teeth immediately following [such as ] brushing or flossing while the enamel is soft can damage teeth, causing sensitivity or develop weak spots that can lead to cavities.”
This only applies to brushing your teeth immediately after finishing your coffee. You can still brush your teeth. Dr. Huang advises waiting at least 30 minutes to an hour. “After the 30-minute mark, your enamel has re-hardened and won’t be removed by brushing,” she says.
If even that’s too long to be dealing with coffee breath, Dr. Huang says you can rinse your mouth right after drinking coffee with room temperature water to help freshen up. She also suggests chewing sugarless gum during those 30 minutes after consumption of coffee (or any other acidic food or beverage for that matter) to help increase saliva flow in the mouth and flush out the acid. Using a mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol will also do the trick.
With all that in mind, the ideal time to brush your teeth is after waking up and before drinking your morning cup of java. The reason? Dr. Huang says coffee can stain the plaque on your teeth, making them appear darker. Brushing before drinking coffee helps get rid of the plaque and bacteria that’s gathered overnight.
According to Dr. Huang, the best ora- care routine for everyone, but especially coffee drinkers, consists of four key steps to be done daily and in the following order. First, start with flossing, then brush your teeth (do this step morning and night, ideally with an electric toothbrush). Next, Dr. Huang recommends using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the tongue. And lastly, finish with an alcohol-free mouth rinse.
“The most important items are daily flossing and twice-daily brushing,” Dr. Huang says. “They are essential to removing plaque and debris from your coffee or any drink or food, as well as the natural buildup of bacteria that occurs in all mouths.” Adding a mouthwash to your oral-care routine is also a great idea. “A mouthwash can help further remove bacteria, plaque, and debris, plus keep your breath fresh.”
Implementing this four-step, oral-hygiene routine religiously not only keeps the bacteria buildup in the mouth low, it also means there are fewer places where coffee stains can attach themselves. “Superficial stains adhere to bacteria on the surface before making their way into the deeper layers of teeth to become deep stains,” Dr. Huang says.
For stain prevention and general oral health, getting professional teeth cleanings twice a year is also key. “Your dentist has powerful tools to remove surface stains before they start to migrate into the deeper layers of teeth,” she says.
Whitening toothpaste is another way to help fight stains and is a strategy Dr. Huang recommends if your teeth can tolerate it without increased sensitivity. “I always recommend alternating a whitening toothpaste with a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth to decrease sensitivity,” she says. Specifically, whitening toothpastes she points to include David’s Natural Whitening Toothpaste, Wellnesse Whitening Toothpaste, and Hello See Ya, Sensitivity Fluoride Toothpaste. She also suggests professional teeth whitenings every year and using whitening strips treatments for maintenance.
As a bonus step, Dr. Huang suggests coconut oil pulling, an Ayurvedic practice that can help keep the teeth clean and white naturally. “Coconut oil contains vitamin A, D, E, and K [and] has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties,” she says. “It will help fight plaque and gingivitis.
To practice oil pulling, swish organic coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes a day. Fair warning: It can take some time to get used to this. So if new to this practice, Dr. Huang recommends starting with five minutes a day and working your way up to 20 minutes overtime.
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