Should You Rinse After Brushing Your Teeth?

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

A healthy mouth takes a lifetime of care. Brushing our teeth becomes second nature to us as we grow up, but do we really do it right? Many of us have the basics of brushing down, but there’s still some debate as to whether we should rinse our mouths with water after brushing our teeth. 

Rinsing after brushing your teeth is a matter of preference, but not rinsing can help you retain the benefits of the fluoride in toothpaste. When you wash out your mouth with water, you dilute or remove the fluoride residue on the surfaces of the mouth, which hinders its preventative effects. 

Let’s look at the benefits of both rinsing and not rinsing after brushing, and the measures you can take to prevent any negative effects caused by either of them. 

What are the Benefits of Not Rinsing After Brushing? 

Smiling young woman brushing teeth using toothbrush with whitening toothpaste

Since we first learned how to brush our teeth, the routine doesn’t deviate much. We first wet the toothbrush, then put on a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush with until the foam thins out. Then comes spitting out any excess foam and rinsing the mouth out after a few seconds of good gargling. 

It’s only natural to feel an urge to rinse after brushing especially to remove any toothpaste residue and the strong aftertaste left by intense mint flavoring. However, there benefits to not rinsing after brushing in order to leave some toothpaste residue in the mouth. 

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes each time. The reason for recommending fluoride as a key ingredient in your daily oral hygiene routine is that it helps strengthen the tooth enamel against the various acids in the oral cavity created by bacteria.

The enamel is the hard protective outer layer of your teeth that keeps their fragile areas covered and protected. Plaque-forming bacteria, acids, and sugars in your mouth can degrade your tooth enamel. Fluoride helps lessen cavities and tooth decay when used regularly in the long term. 

However, fluoride needs to stay on the surface of your teeth for some time in order for it to work as intended. As a naturally occurring mineral, fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel by creating a defensive layer on the surface of your teeth.

When bacteria wear down your tooth enamel, it goes through a process called demineralization. Fluoride, calcium, and phosphate help reverse the demineralization process by forming a stronger barrier on your enamel called fluorapatite, which prevents mineral loss and forming of cavities. 

When you rinse your mouth off after brushing, you don’t leave enough time for the fluoride in your toothpaste to remineralize the enamel of your teeth. Even if you rinse lightly, the water can dilute the fluoride and reduce the ability it has to prevent cavities from forming. 

Once you finish brushing your teeth for the recommended two minutes, you can always spit out any excess saliva and toothpaste after you brush your teeth.

However, leaving the fluoride residue on your teeth as you go about your day or go to bed allows it to team up with calcium and phosphate to protect the enamel of your teeth. 

What are the Benefits of Rinsing After Brushing?

Not everyone likes the aftertaste that toothpaste leaves in the mouth after brushing. Therefore, they immediately spit out the excess toothpaste and foam after brushing, fill their mouths with water, gargle to get any residue off the surfaces and rinse it all off. There are some benefits to doing this too.

For some people, the texture, flavors, and various ingredients in toothpaste can cause an upset stomach if ingested. Rinsing your mouth well after brushing can prevent that from happening. 

Some toothpaste companies add an excessive concentration of fluoride to their toothpaste which sometimes exceeds the amount of fluoride one should ingest.

Exposure to excessive amounts of fluoride can pose a risk for children ages eight and below, who are still in the process of growing their permanent teeth. When children experience overexposure to fluoride for a long period of time, they can develop a condition called dental fluorosis.

The good news is that most cases of dental fluorosis are classified as “very mild” or “mild” and as a result don’t affect the health or function of the teeth. However, it does appear in the form of white spots on teeth, which some consider a cosmetic issue. Encouraging children not to swallow fluoride toothpaste and to rinse the mouth after brushing can help prevent this.

Moreover, the gargling of water before you rinse your mouth can help remove any leftover food particles that you didn’t get to while brushing, which is another benefit, especially for those who cannot spend a sufficient amount of time brushing. 

What About Using Mouthwash to Rinse? 

If you do not like the sticky texture of toothpaste and prefer to rinse your mouth with water, you can prevent negative effects by using a mouthwash that contains fluoride after you brush and rinse your teeth. This is an optional step in your dental hygiene routine. 

However, if your mouthwash doesn’t contain ingredients like fluoride that help strengthen your teeth’s enamel, using it right after brushing will do more harm than good. Using mouthwash to rinse can be stronger on your teeth than simply using water, and it can not only dilute but completely remove any fluoride residue in your mouth.

Therefore, it is best to wait at least 20 minutes after you finish brushing to use your mouthwash. 

If your mouthwash contains fluoride, avoid drinking or eating anything until at least 30 minutes after to avoid any issues caused by the ingestion of fluoride. 

Is It Better to Not Rinse After Brushing?

Mother, father and daughter brushing teeth in bathroom

Whether you should rinse your mouth with water after brushing is mostly up to personal preference, but there are more benefits to not rinsing than rinsing. If your teeth are more prone to getting cavities, you might want to avoid rinsing so that you can take all the help from fluoride that you can get. That said, you also have the option of asking your dentist for a prescription toothpaste that suits your needs.

Either way, not rinsing doesn’t mean you have to swallow any excess toothpaste or saliva after you brush your teeth. You can spit out any leftover toothpaste and foam, but there is a benefit to not rinsing all the residue off, as your teeth will get more out of the fluoride in the toothpaste.

Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to make sure you will not be ingesting an excessive amount of fluoride if you do not rinse. 

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