07. Brushing Teeth and Toothpaste

One may brush one’s teeth on Shabbat to clean them and to treat bad breath. Similarly, mouthwash may be used to freshen one’s breath. However, it is proper to refrain from using toothpaste, the same way we refrain from using bar soap or thick liquid soap.

While it is true that some forbid brushing teeth on Shabbat, either due to the concern of Seĥita, because the gums might bleed, or because the bristles of the toothbrush might break, nevertheless, the primary halakhic position is that one may brush one’s teeth with a toothbrush le-khatĥila. It is only in a case where it is almost certain that the gums will bleed that this is prohibited.[6]

One may wash off the toothbrush with water after brushing, as one normally does, even if one does not intend to use the toothbrush again on Shabbat. This is not considered preparing for the weekday on Shabbat, because it is simply a matter of routine and is not considered a significant chore. Furthermore, removing the residue from the brush also serves a purpose on Shabbat, as leaving it dirty would be disgusting (see MB 667:6; below 22:16).

One may clean one’s teeth with a toothpick (SA 322:4). If there is no toothpick available, a match may be used. While it is true that matches are muktzeh, they are kelim she-melakhtam le-isur, and one may handle them in order to use them for a permitted activity (below, 23:7). Of course, one must remember that one may not sharpen the match for this purpose, as sharpening it would violate a Torah prohibition.

One may use denture adhesive powder to attach false teeth to the gums, as this is meant for the short term (Har Tzvi; Tzitz Eliezer 15:25; Yalkut Yosef 314:17; as opposed to SSK 14:40, who is stringent).

[6]. Those who prohibit include Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:48 and Orĥot Shabbat 17:29. SSK states in 14:39 that the custom is to be stringent. The logic of those who forbid brushing is that it causes bleeding and can break the bristles of the toothbrush. Both claims are incorrect. Since it is rare for either thing to happen, they would be cases of davar she-eino mitkaven and thus brushing is permitted. Some also raise the problem of Seĥita, as water may be squeezed out of the bristles during the brushing. In response, those who permit explain that such squeezing is a psik reisha de-lo niĥa lei in a case of a double rabbinic prohibition. First, wringing out hair and the like is only rabbinically prohibited; second, it is done in a backhanded way. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach maintains that it is to one’s advantage (niĥa lei) for the water to be squeezed out, because this improves the cleaning. However, generally the bristles of a toothbrush are neither very long nor very tightly packed, so usually no Seĥita occurs at all. If one rinses his mouth with mouthwash before brushing, then R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach would agree that it is a psik reisha de-lo niĥa lei. Those who permit tooth brushing in practice are Seridei Esh 2:28; Igrot Moshe, OĤ 1:112; Or Le-Tziyon 2:35:6; and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shulĥan Shlomo 320:28:2). Ketzot Ha-shulĥan and Yabi’a Omer 4:27-30 permit using toothpaste as well.