woman rinsing mouth with water after brushing teeth

By the time we’re adults, most of us probably think we’ve got brushing our teeth figured out. We’ve been doing it everyday for most of our lives, after all. However, there is one part of the process that many people get wrong: they rinse their mouths after brushing!

After brushing your teeth, you should be spitting out the toothpaste, not rinsing then spitting. If the fact that you’re not supposed to rinse your mouth after brushing comes as a big shock, don’t feel bad. This is a very understandable misconception. From what we can tell, patients think of toothpaste like soap: something that aids in the removal of debris then gets washed away. But toothpaste isn’t like that for one very important cavity-preventing reason: fluoride.

Fluoride in an ingredient in toothpaste that prevents tooth decay by re-mineralizing and strengthening teeth. However, the less time the fluoride is on your teeth, the less time it has to prevent tooth decay. By rinsing with water you are limiting fluoride’s active time on your mouth to the amount of time you’ve been brushing. And given that most people don’t even brush for the full two minutes that the dentist recommends, that is not nearly enough time!

Upon hearing this prohibition of rinsing, one of the biggest questions we hear about is the dangers of swallowing toothpaste. While you should never swallow significant amounts of toothpaste, ingesting a tiny bit mixed with saliva after brushing your teeth is unlikely to do you harm (especially when compared to the risks of gum disease and tooth decay). But if you’re still very worried about it, you can rinse a little using this method: sip about a teaspoon (5 mL) of water and swish it in your mouth with the toothpaste to create a toothpaste slurry, then spit.

If the thought of having chemicals other than fluoride lingering in your mouth bothers you, you can try finding an all-natural fluoride toothpaste that has fewer ingredients. If it’s the lingering minty flavor that bothers you, there are toothpaste flavors other than mint out there, including bubblegum, watermelon and cinnamon. Just be sure they still have fluoride.

As an added bonus, not rinsing can also be better for the environment. Many of us unconsciously leave the water in the sink running as we brush our teeth, in anticipation of rinsing our mouths and the brush out at the end, wasting about 3 gallons (12 liters) of water each time. People who rinse their mouths are much more likely to waste water than those who don’t, so once you stop rinsing, you’ll probably stop wasting too!