The prosecution: Alex
Brushing after breakfast makes sense – why start your day with crumbs stuck in your teeth?
My wife, Wanda, believes you should brush your teeth before breakfast. But I think you should eat first, then brush it all away after breakfast. After you wake up, there’s a lot of bacteria between your teeth. I have told Wanda this over the years (diplomatically of course) that she’s in the wrong, but she won’t change.
Usually the question about who’s right doesn’t come up. But recently I read an article saying that her method of brushing before breakfast is better for good dental hygiene. The article said brushing before breakfast coats your teeth in toothpaste and offers protection against food and sugar for the rest of the day.
But I feel that this benefit is far outweighed by the fact that food would be sitting in your mouth all day. You are leaving food particles between your teeth for hours, after all. I don’t think her method makes sense.
I have said to her: “I don’t know how you cope with the food between your teeth all day. Aren’t you worried?” And she will say no – it’s just how she was raised.
For Wanda it’s a cultural thing. If you’re brought up to do a certain thing, whatever culture you’re in, you’re immune to reason. It’s now part of her morning ritual. I don’t think culture is necessarily open to scientific fact or better ideas. It creates habits that are hard to break.
When I’ve had that experience of not brushing my teeth after breakfast, it’s a physically uncomfortable feeling. A few times I’ve woken up late, eaten something quickly and then forgotten to brush my teeth because I’m doing something else, and I hate the way my mouth feels. My teeth seem to have a film on them. And there’s always this chunk of food stuck in my molar and my tongue is vigorously trying to get that thing out for hours and hours. I’m not sure how Wanda copes.
Fortunately, Wanda and I live in a house with two bathrooms, so I don’t have to put up with the sight of her brushing her teeth before breakfast. When you live with someone, you make certain compromises.
The defence: Wanda
I was taught that you wake up, have a wash and clean your teeth – the issue is a cultural one
When I was young, my parents always said that when you wake up, you should brush your teeth, wash your face and freshen up. It gives you that instant energy after being asleep. So that’s why I always brush my teeth before breakfast.
It’s a habit I’ve had for many years. I was taught that when you wake up and wash immediately, you become a different person – you get rid of the night. It’s what I’m used to. I’m of a Chinese background and my husband’s American. We’ve just been taught by our parents to do different things.
Brushing my teeth before breakfast also saves time. I tried Alex’s method before, but because I have to leave for work straight after I finish my breakfast, I don’t want to go back upstairs to brush. It takes up too much time. So I quit that habit very quickly. Now after breakfast I’m quickly out of the door to start the commute.
If I brush my teeth after breakfast I also find it annoying because I’ll taste toothpaste on the way to work and that leaves a horrible flavour in my mouth for hours. I really don’t like it.
Alex and I both have very good teeth – people tell us this regularly. We should both carry on doing what we are doing.
It’s interesting because in China some things are typically taken very seriously, such as your skin, but there is not so much emphasis on your teeth. Compared with the US, it’s a lot less common to see a dentist regularly and spend money on braces.
A lot of my friends say, “Wow your teeth are so good.” But I had braces and I take very good care of my teeth. I brush them twice a day like most people, and I also floss.
Obviously my methods are working and I’m happy about that. I haven’t read the article Alex was talking about, but I don’t need to. Everyone has their own choice and I like mine. If he thinks that it’s healthy to brush his teeth after eating, he can do it. I will continue to brush my teeth in this way, and that’s fine.
The jury of Guardian readers
Should Wanda brush her teeth after breakfast rather than before?
Wanda is not guilty. Alex may not know how she copes, but she clearly does! There are absolutely things you compromise on in a relationship – if she weren’t brushing her teeth at all I could understand. But she does – just not the exact way Alex wants her to.
Alex’s argument isn’t rational. He says there is research that endorses Wanda’s method, but still insists she’s “wrong”. It’s down to what the individual prefers, particularly as neither has bad dental hygiene. He isn’t required to wonder how Wanda “manages”; he should stop trying to be right and accept that they are different.
It feels like Alex is quite controlling – surely his wife’s dental routine is none of his business, and given that they both have good teeth why does it matter? To hear language like, “I don’t have to put up with the sight …” makes me question whether this is just about teeth.
I’m with Wanda. As Alex says, any food from her breakfast is in her teeth, not his. The way Wanda brushes has no impact on him. Surely he has more important things to worry about – like why he’s so consumed by his wife’s habits.
Wanda and Alex both have great teeth and are happy with their own morning routines. What’s the problem? Nothing needs to change. As for getting the taste of food out of your mouth – that’s what mints are for.