This Simple Toothbrushing Mistake Could Be Giving You Cavities

Quick question: What’s best for your smile after eating sweets?

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You’ve finished treating yourself to a Snickers bar and feel the coating of sugar and chocolate nestling onto your teeth. As your digestive system does its thing, so does the plaque in your mouth. After all, candy is one of the worst foods for your teeth; eating it can promote the production of acid that causes tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

So you grab your toothbrush and scrub away the caramely evidence. Problem solved, right?

Oops. Turns out, your brilliant plan to brush away your afternoon sweet treat may have made it worse. Brushing your teeth after eating a cavity-inducing food sounds great in theory, but it’s actually a mistake—and here’s why.

Sugary or acidic foods have a lingering effect on your tooth’s enamel for about 20 minutes, according to Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City. “Your enamel actually becomes softer,” says Dr. Jablow. “The mechanical brushing of the teeth can actually wear the teeth more.”

Foods that Soften Tooth Enamel

Your teeth are covered with a hard, calcified tissue called enamel, according to ADA. This protective layer is actually stronger than the bones in your body, but it’s not invincible.

One enemy of your enamel is certain foods—namely, sugary, acidic, and citrusy foods. These are the enamel-softening foods to look out for, according to Dr. Jablow and the ADA:

  • Citrus fruits

  • Tomatoes

  • Desserts and sweet snacks

  • Vinegars

  • Fruit juice

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Carbonated sugary beverages

These foods cause tooth erosion that can lead to temperature sensitivity, staining, cavities, and even tooth loss, according to the ADA.

What to Do After Eating Enamel-Softening Foods

“It’s very important when you have something with sugar [or] acid that you have to wait 20 minutes before you brush your teeth,” says Dr. Jablow.

In that 20-minute time frame, drink water to flush away bacteria from your mouth naturally. If you have a sink nearby, you can even swish around a little water like mouthwash to rinse out your teeth. You can also use a water flosser, if you’re lucky enough to own one at home.

“It’s also very important, after those 20 minutes have gone by, that you’re brushing your teeth and removing any debris that could be left behind on the surface of the teeth,” says Dr. Jablow.

Find out how bad it is to not brush your teeth twice a day, and check out a dentist’s tips for choosing a toothbrush here.