We’ve all been there. It’s late and you had a really long day. You know you should brush your teeth before bed, but heading straight for that pillow looks like a pretty good option right about now. What’s the harm if you skip brushing just this once?
We all know the long-term consequences of not brushing regularly. But most people are a little less clear about what happens in an unbrushed mouth over the course of a single night.
In a nutshell: When you skip brushing, bacteria and germs pretty much hold an all night party. Here is exactly what happens overnight in an unbrushed mouth.
Less Saliva Makes for Vulnerable Teeth
It isn’t just your body and brain that takes a break at night. Saliva flow slows way down when you sleep, too. An average person produces between two and four pints of saliva each day, with the heaviest flow in the late afternoon and slowest at night.
Saliva might seem unglamourous, but it plays an important role in our mouths, especially when it comes to protecting our teeth and gums from harmful bacteria. Saliva contains important proteins and minerals that protect our teeth and gums by neutralizing acids and limiting bacterial growth. The flow of saliva also helps wash away food particles.
All of this is to say that when your saliva slows down, your teeth are more vulnerable. When you skip brushing, any bacteria left over from eating during the day is free to stick around all night long.
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Trouble-Making Bacteria Moves In
Which brings us to the subject of trouble-making bacteria. You might be surprised to know that bacteria enjoy a late-night snack as much as the rest of us. And nothing says growth spurt like a well-fed germ. When you leave food unbrushed on your teeth overnight, it creates a virtual smorgasbord for bacteria, enticing them to set up camp and multiply.
And when bacteria eat, well...they excrete. Just like any other living organism, bacteria excrete waste after they feed. Certain foods like sugary sweets, dairy, and starches cause bacteria to excrete waste that is acidic. This acid, when left on your teeth overnight, begins to break down tooth enamel, eventually leading to cavities.
Your Teeth Don’t Get Their Beauty Sleep
On average, humans spend a third of our lives in bed. We need beauty sleep, and as it turns out, so do our teeth. As Scott Frey of Hatcher and Frey Orthodontics puts it, “Nighttime is an important period of rest and recovery for your teeth.” This is the chance for teeth to remineralize after the wear and tear of a hard day’s work.
If your teeth are clean when you go to bed, they get a chance to catch some ZZZ’s without the constant interruption of bacteria and acids. Leave those bacteria in place, and your poor teeth are under attack all night long.
Toothpaste Doesn’t Get a Chance to Do Its Job
Brushing your teeth each night does more than just clean away food and bacteria.
As you probably know, the ADA recommends brushing with a toothpaste that contains fluoride. This is because fluoride strengthens the enamel in teeth, making it harder for acids to break teeth down and cause cavities. Likewise, toothpaste that contains calcium phosphate — the primary ingredient in enamel— helps restore mineral content to weakened teeth.
Think of it like a nightly dose of vitamins for your teeth. Sure, one night without fluoride isn’t going to cause your teeth to instantly fall out. But one night here, one night there — it adds up over time. Why risk it? Especially when a good, solid brushing will do the trick.
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