Throwing up is a terrible experience, and most of us can attest to it because we have all been through it at some point in time. When you vomit, stomach acid and food residue in the stomach can cause serious damage to your throat and teeth; the experience is only worsened by the foul stench of the vomit that lingers in your mouth.
As such, you may be tempted to wash off all the vomit and brush your teeth right after throwing up. However, opinions have been mixed on whether you should do that. Some believe that it is important to brush your teeth to get rid of the stomach acid that has stained the teeth, while others say that brushing will only make matters worse. So, what’s the right thing to do after vomittng?
The right answer is that you should not brush your teeth after throwing up. The reason? The brushing your teeth causes any residual stomach acid in your mouth to swirl and rub against the teeth, causing more damage to the softened enamel. The enamel is the hard outer shell that protects the dentin and cementum from damage. In spite of it being harder than bone, the enamel is susceptible to erosion by acids.
Instead, you should swish your mouth with a solution containing water and baking soda. Baking soda, also called sodium bicarbonate, has an alkaline pH and helps neutralize any stomach acid left in your mouth. Alternatively, you may use a mouthwash to rinse away any of the stomach acid and get rid of the residual taste in your mouth.
That said, sporadic episodes of vomiting would not cause any significant or permanent damage to your gums and enamel. However, frequent vomiting can lead to health issues such as dehydration, exhuastion, and the tearing of the lining in the esophagus, which is also known as a Mallory-Weiss tear.
When Can I Brush My Teeth?
If you want to brush your teeth, wait till the acid is neutralized and diluted by the saliva. While there is no scientifically established time on when you should to brush your teeth, the general rule of thumb is to do it 30 minutes to an hour after you have rinsed your mouth.
Here are detailed steps you should follow after throwing up:
- Rinse your mouth with a baking soda solution (8 ounces of water mixed with 1 teaspoon of baking soda), mouthwash, or water.
- Wait for 30 minutes to an hour. During this period, do not eat or drink anything other than water.
- If your teeth or mouth feels uneasy, it is likely that the stomach acid left in your mouth is not fully neutralised. Rinse you mouth again and wait for another 10 to 15 minutes
- If your mouth feels comfortable and “normal”, proceed to brush your teeth as per usual.
- Stop brushing if you feel pain or sensitivity in certain section of the teeth. It is likely that damage has been done by the stomach acid. Proceed to your dental clinic for a checkup.
What Is Stomach Acid Made Of?
Stomach acid, also known as gastric acid, is primarily made up of potassium chloride, sodium chloride and hydrochloric acid. While only a small amount of hydrochloric acid make up stomach acid, it is the main contributor of the acid’s low pH level. With a pH level of 1.5 to 2.5, stomach acid is more acidic than lemon juice (2.3) and vinegar (2.9).
Stomach acid is produced by parietal cells found in the gastric glands along the lining of the stomach. You may wonder, how does the stomach survive the strong acid? Well, a protective mucus and bicarbonate is also secreted along the inside of the stomach. The mucus protects the organ against the acid while the bicarbonate, base, neutralizes any hydrochloric acid that penetrates the mucus.
On average, the cells produce approximately 1.5 litres of gastric acid in the stomach. When the body is unable to process the large amount of gastric acid produced in the stomach, it may cause acid reflux, a situation when the acid flows freely up to the oesophagus.