“If you had to choose, brushing at night is more important,” says Dr. Marc Schlenoff, Tend’s Head of Clinical Development.
At night, you’re brushing away “the accumulation of sugary and acidic things we all eat and drink throughout the day.” Not brushing that away can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
Plus, the fluoride that lingers in your mouth after brushing will help maintain saliva production overnight, protecting your tooth enamel from the corrosive effects of any remaining acid. (Just one more reason we—and the American Dental Association—recommend using fluoride toothpaste!)
Similarly, night is also the best time of day to floss, to ensure no food particles or food debris stay stuck between your teeth overnight.
In the morning—unless you’re a midnight snacker (which, fair)—your teeth are still pretty clean, since they haven’t really been used. Brushing in the morning is an important part of a good dental care routine, but it’s mostly about clearing away bad breath and getting rid of any plaque you missed the night before.
(Bonus tip: if you opt for breakfast foods and drinks that are particularly acidic—think, citrus or orange juice, tomatoes, coffee, etc—avoid brushing for at least 30 minutes afterwards. The bristles in your toothbrush can actually spread the acid from these foods over your teeth, weakening your tooth enamel.)
Still, all that said, Dr. Schlenoff definitely does not recommend skipping your morning brush. Long-term it will affect your oral health, and short-term people may “stand a little further away from you.” (Let’s be real: fresh breath > morning breath.) But let’s say you’re a parent negotiating with a particularly brushing-averse kid: if you have to give up something at the bargaining table (just once), now you know what to do.
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