You’ve probably heard your dentist or oral care practitioner recommend brushing at least twice a day- and, if you’re anything like the rest of us, you’ve probably wondered if that’s really necessary or just ‘the doctor’ talking! Today Vitality takes a long look at the science behind this recommendation, and why it’s so essential for your oral health.
Is brushing your teeth once a day enough?
The simple answer here is no- but that answer alone may not be good enough for you. In this fast-paced, hectic world in which we live, it’s tempting to take any shortcuts we can find. If your diet is pretty good, why can’t you not brush your teeth at night? You’re still brushing, right?
Firstly, let’s look at why we brush our teeth at all.
Why do we brush our teeth?
The mouth is the very first part of your digestive system. Not only is it where you manually crush and reduce the foods you eat so that the stomach and intestines can better break down the nutrients inside, but it’s also the very first point of digestion for some forms of starch and sugar. Enzymes such as amylase, found in our saliva, already begin to break down these parts of the food before you even swallow. While this is great for a healthy digestive system, it’s not such great news for our teeth.
These pre-digested sugars and starches remain coated on the teeth, along with tiny particles of food trapped between your teeth, compacted into the crevices on the tooth surface, lodged in your mouth and even trapped on tongue piercings and braces; and make the perfect food for bacteria to grow and grow. It is these bacteria [once they adhere to the tooth surface] that are responsible for enamel damage and tooth decay. They produce waste products which encourage the disintegration of your enamel, as well as creating a ‘biofilm’ that prevents the natural cleaning properties of your saliva from reaching the tooth’s surface to clean it.
If this biofilm is not removed, you will see sticky plaque build-up on the tooth, eventually hardening into hard, yellow tartar (or build-up) on the tooth which is impossible to remove except by your dental practitioner. The acid by-products of the bacteria’s feeding process will slowly damage enamel and bacteria will even lodge themselves along the slightly looser skin right on your gum line. Over time, these will create bacterial ‘pocket’ colonies that are almost impossible to remove, leaving you with bleeding gums, bad breath and a high risk of both tooth decay and jaw bone damage.
Not the most pleasant of scenarios! However, brushing gives us one of the simplest, most powerful tools to prevent this process.
What happens when you brush your teeth instead?
Brushing your teeth has several important mechanisms by which it prevents this scenario. Firstly, the simple action of the bristles on the teeth serves to break down that biofilm and sweep bacteria away. If you practice the correct brushing technique, you will even be able to lightly ‘sweep’ those gum pockets to reduce the bacteria load there, although it’s not quite that easy to conquer gingivitis totally. The action of the bristles on your teeth also dislodges the impacted food particles that encourage bacteria to breed. Combined with a great toothpaste, the brush manually delivers strengthening minerals and fluoride to the surface of the tooth. Most toothpastes also include a retardant to slow bacterial for the next meal, and a good mouthwash can round off this germ-busting action. Flossing helps ensure no food- or biofilm- remains stuck between teeth. All of this adds up to cumulatively keep your teeth safe from decay, and allows saliva to do its protective job too.
So what are the effects of not brushing your teeth at night?
So, why isn’t it enough to just brush once a day? The answer’s pretty simple. You’re unlikely to only eat once a day, after all! This same process will repeat every time you put anything into your mouth. Bacteria breed very fast- imagine populations that can literally double in the span of twenty minutes. No matter how efficient your brushing technique, and how great your mouthwash, it’s almost impossible to fully eliminate these bacteria within your mouth cavity, too. Even after the best brush, some will linger- you may have missed a spot, or failed to clean a hard-to-reach-space. This means they will start multiplying within the mouth, eagerly awaiting the next meal. While brushing once a day does a lot to reduce this bacterial load, it isn’t enough to keep it totally at bay- you will begin to see plaque formation and accelerated risk of cavities despite your brushing.
It isn’t enough to just brush in the evening, either. While the body does most of its healing overnight, and you won’t be snacking of course, bacteria will still re-colonise your mouth overnight from these small populations, and washing them away to start the day afresh is another critical part of keeping your mouth healthy.
What are the other advantages of brushing twice a day?
While cavity fighting is the top reason to brush your teeth at night too, there’s some other great reasons to keep a strict twice-a-day oral cleanliness habit. These include:
- Reduced gum disease
- Fresher breath
- Reduced stroke/heart attack risk from excess mouth bacteria
- Good gum health reduces mental deterioration risks by up to 40%
- Prevents trips to the dentist
- Keeps teeth looking whiter
If you’re only brushing once a day, it’s definitely time to shake up that routine and brush at least twice! The team at Vitality want to help you make the most of your teeth, so please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or need help with an oral care routine.