I’m that guy who brushes his teeth at work.
Come 2 or 3pm most workdays, I grab a coffee mug filled with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash. I carry it through our open plan office to the public restroom. I post up at the sink and spend about five or six minutes conducting the trifecta of dental hygiene in its entirety. Floss. Brush. Gargle. While. Everyone. Watches.
If you have a stereotype of the person who brushes his teeth at work, that’s not me. I’m no exemplar of self-discipline; I care about fitting in at the office. Initially, I felt a little sheepish about brushing at work, and fretted I’d be seen as an office weirdo — the only person with a stand-up desk in a sit-down culture.
But it didn’t take long to get over it, and the reason is simple: I’ve found that brushing your teeth at work has benefits that go way beyond dental health.
Combating the afternoon lull
Brushing your teeth around 2 is like taking a mid-afternoon smoke break, except it’s actually good for you. Energy levels hit their daily low at around 2:16pm, according to the UK’s National Health Service. (As Quartz has written, drinking coffee at 2pm is a good way to get out ahead of that dip—it takes the caffeine about 15-30 minutes to set in.)
That daily lull is a good time to step away from your desk and do something refreshing. When I brush my teeth at work, it helps me shake off the first half of the day and get ready for the second.
Pro tip: Don’t brush your teeth right after eating. (paywall) A lot of food is acidic, and brushing before your saliva has a chance to neutralize that acidity (it takes about 30 minutes) is like … well, rubbing acid all over your teeth with a brush. Same goes for coffee and soda.
Having fresh breath (for the sake of your colleagues and clients)
It’s good to feel confident.
If you spend a lot of time face-to-face with co-workers, you don’t want your words to get lost in a hot miasma of breath. And, if your job involves meeting clients, you definitely don’t want to scare them away. Some companies actually require their employees to brush before meeting with clients, according to Forbes.
Pro tip: If you opt for adding mouthwash to the routine (which is a good idea because mouthwash can do a lot to reduce bad breath), look for antibacterial or antiseptic mouthwashes. They actually kill the bacteria that cause bad breath. You definitely don’t want a fluoride mouthwash—those help fight tooth decay, but not bad breath. And some so-called cosmetic mouthwashes mask bad breath temporarily, but don’t snuff out the microbes producing it.
Trying to temper my consumption of the readily available candy in the office is what inspired me to start brushing at work. Candy is awesome. I have a hard time passing the candy bowl by, especially during that afternoon lull when I really want some quick energy. Since I can’t rely on self-control, I needed to figure out a way to make myself not actually want candy in the first place.
When do I definitely not want candy? Right after I’ve brushed my teeth.
And of course, dental health
Dentists recommend you brush for at least two minutes, at least twice a day. Let’s be real. Two minutes is a long time.
It’s hard to know exactly how often or for how long people brush, because people don’t own up to shabby dental hygiene in surveys. In 1998, some three-quarters of adults in the UK claimed to brush at least twice a day, but of them, 69% had “visible plaque” (pdf). A similar disconnect between reported brushing habits and observed dental health has been found across Europe and in North America. Clearly, people either don’t brush thoroughly enough, or they exaggerate how often they do, or both.
I find I spend longer brushing my teeth during a break from work than I do when I’m rushed in the morning or tired at night. I also floss more thoroughly. It’s a ritual. I take my time and do it right.
Pro tip: It’s worth going out of your way to find an empty bathroom.
My personal routine
Here is what my personal dental hygiene kit looks like. But remember: I’m not a dentist, I’m just a guy who brushes his teeth at work.
The mug. The mug is critical, especially if you decide to floss and use mouthwash. You need a convenient way to transport all those supplies to the restroom. But even if you’re just bringing a brush and toothpaste, it’s also nice to have a place to put those things so that they aren’t touching any of the bathroom’s surfaces.
The toothbrush travel case. I like to keep the bristles covered while my brush is sitting there on my desk, even though I don’t cover them at home. It just feels cleaner. One thing to note: It’s important to let the bristles dry all the way after you brush, so they don’t harbor bacteria. That means you shouldn’t stick your brush in a case right after you use it.
Mouthwash. I use an alcohol-based antiseptic rinse. A lot of dentists warn against alcohol-based mouthwashes because they can dry out your mouth and actually promote cavities. But I find the sterilizing sting of a strong alcohol rinse to be irresistible. I have a fluoride rinse at home that I use in the morning and at night to fight cavities.
…in a travel-sized bottle. It’s important that you have a bottle that fits in your mug. I keep a full-sized container at my desk to use for refills.
How do you get started?
Just go for it.
Some things might take some getting used to. Chances are your office doesn’t have a designated sink for teeth-brushing (not even the offices of the American Dental Association do, according to a spokesperson), so you’ll have to use a public restroom. And if online forums are any indication (try searching “brushing your teeth at work“), some people find the sight of others brushing their teeth to be unsavory.
But once you break the ice, you’ll slip into a routine in no time.