A Guide to Nighttime Oral Care
By Jen Laskey
Keeping your teeth strong, your gums healthy, and your smile bright is not just a day job; your mouth needs protection at night too. Donna L. Zak, D.D.S., of Zak & Frankel Dental Associates in New York City, explains: “Nighttime oral hygiene is important because while we’re sleeping, we’re not swallowing, so the bacteria in our mouths increase throughout the night. The nighttime goal is to avoid giving the bacteria anything to break down and feed off.”
There are three basic steps to nighttime hygiene: brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash. Dr. Zak says the order doesn’t matter, as long as the food particles and plaque are removed. However, she adds, “My preference is for brushing, flossing, and then mouthwash because I feel that brushing first makes it easier to floss.”
Steps for Basic Nighttime Oral Hygiene:
Brushing your teeth helps protect them from plaque buildup and tooth decay. Using a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste that contains fluoride, start brushing your teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gums. The correct method, according to the American Dental Association, is to brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes. The ADA suggests brushing the outer tooth surfaces first, then working your way through the inner tooth surfaces and the chewing surfaces of your teeth. The association also recommends using the “toe” of the brush to clean the backs of your front teeth with gentle up-and-down strokes.
Whether you should brush right after dinner, before bed, or both depends on your susceptibility to dental disease. Because recent studies have shown that the risk for dental disease varies from person to person, dentists are now following medical models of dental disease to determine their patients’ susceptibility and the type of care they need. “People who are at a low risk for cavities and gum disease can certainly wait until bedtime to brush (though the timing isn’t as crucial for them). Higher-risk patients would benefit from both an after-dinner and a bedtime brushing,” says Dr. Zak.
Cleaning between your teeth with floss allows you to reach plaque that you can’t remove with a toothbrush. Flossing at least once a day