Maintaining clean and pearly whites is so much more than an exercise in vanity. Poor dental hygiene can lead to health issues that, if left untreated, could affect your overall well-being. By establishing consistent pre-bedtime habits like brushing and rinsing, you may be able to not just improve your quality of life, but enhance your overall sleep, too. That’s good news for your body and bad news for all those sheep you’ve been counting.
Dr. Michael Kosdon, a New York City-based cosmetic dentist of Smiles of NYC, is a firm believer in proactively establishing a nightly mouthcare ritual.
“Maintaining good dental hygiene is important in preventing cavities and gum infections, which can keep you up at night,” he says. The issues can also be psychological. “Knowing that you need to have costly or painful dental work done can [also] be a source of stress for many people, which can drastically impact sleep quality.”
We asked Kosdon to share his recommendation for the most effective dental regimen, as well as answer some common questions regarding general oral health. Check out his expert thoughts and opinions below and may the floss be with you.
How dental issues can affect health and sleep
“Nothing disturbs a good night’s rest more than having a toothache,” reminds Kosdon, who reveals that a bevy of dental issues can prevent anyone from achieving superior sleep. These are just a handful of his top concerns:
Inflammation of the gums, otherwise known as gingivitis (said with dramatic flair, of course), can progress into the long-term chronic inflammatory disease periodontitis. “This has been proven to be linked to other system health issues including heart disease and diabetes,” he says.
Crooked and misaligned teeth
“These can contribute to having a narrow dental arch, which leaves little to no room for the tongue,” explains Kosdon. “As a result, this can directly contribute to sleep apnea and mouth breathing, both of which affect the quality of sleep.”
Mouth breathing doesn’t just affect the person with the dental issues. “Mouth breathing causes the mouth to dry at night, which leads to bad breath and can cause coughing. Both can disturb the person sleeping next to you,” he adds.
“If you don’t wear a night guard, over time this can lead to pain in the form of TMJ, which can contribute to tightness in the jaw muscles and cause headaches [throughout the night and upon waking],” shares Kosdon, who shares that teeth grinding can also affect the sleep quality of your partner. “The sound [of teeth grinding] can awaken a sleep partner.”
The best nightly dental routine
When it comes to adopting new habits, consistency is key, though sometimes a few scare tactics can help people hold themselves accountable.
“Proper education really helps people develop good nightly dental hygiene,” says Kosdon. “If people are aware of the potentially negative health benefits of ignoring your teeth and gums, they’re more prone to take action.”
Taking care of teeth can also lead to a more confident smile.
“Gun inflammation and bad breath can both be lessened when brushing and flossing before bed,” he stresses. There are also cosmetic benefits. “Not having plaque on your enamel will definitely give your teeth a whiter appearance.”
But with so much conflicting literature about best practices and what is, ultimately, the most beneficial way to approach oral healthcare, Kosdon’s best advice is to not overthink it. “I would floss then brush, followed by rinsing with mouthwash right before laying down in bed. This would help maximize plaque and bacteria removal from your teeth and gums.”
Beyond the basics, there are more steps to optimize your hygiene. “I also recommend using a water flosser after brushing to remove the bacteria and plaque from hard-to-reach areas,” he adds.
Additionally, don’t eat after brushing before bed. But if you must, you’ll want to avoid acidic or sugary foods, as these contribute to the breakdown of enamel, which, in turn, can lead to cavities.
And when it comes to toothpaste, “focus less on whitening and more on ensuring it contains fluoride,” recommends Kosdon. Fluoride protects teeth from developing decay by making them stronger, allowing for easier absorption of minerals, and blocking bacteria’s ability to produce the aforementioned enamel-killing acid.
How to maintain your night guard or retainer
To prevent painful grinding and teeth misalignment, many of us sleep with dental devices like night guards and retainers. These can be quite expensive, so it is important to maintain and clean them to remove cold, flu, and sore throat-causing bacteria, as well as extend their longevity.
“It's best to rinse your night guard and retainer with lukewarm water before and after use,” advises Kosdon. “Some night guards are made with a special silicon material that can only be cleaned with soap and water.”
“And if you have a clear retainer, I would recommend cleaning it when it starts to become opaque or starts to smell,” he adds. This can be done by simply brushing your hardware with your toothbrush and preferred toothpaste.
Let’s talk whitening
Despite a consistent brushing and flossing schedule, it may be difficult to get teeth a few shades lighter. Of course, nothing compares to in-office whitening procedures conducted by professionals like Kosdon, but there are a couple at-home remedies that he recommends incorporating into your routine right before bedtime.
“Colgate Optic White ComfortFit Teeth Whitening Kit is an easy and convenient kit that comes with a flexible tray and an LED light that activates the bleach,” he says. “This product delivers good results and is reasonably priced.”
“Crest White Strips are also ADA approved, are easy to use, and provide excellent results,” he adds.
Should you suffer from tooth sensitivity and/or not want to shell out hard-earned cash, you can simply swish with coconut oil, brush with a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, and incorporate more foods like strawberries into your diet. The latter contains citric and malic acids, which can temporarily give the impression of whiter teeth — but don’t rely on fruit as a long-term solution. Acids can do more harm than good by breaking down tooth enamel and making them more susceptible to cavities.
Here’s the Drill
If you take the time to turn on a fan, read a few pages of a good book, or recite your nightly prayers, you certainly have time to care for your teeth. Even the slightest effort can make a significant difference in preventing long-term illnesses or general discomfort. Plus, you’ll also benefit from the pearliest of whites and breath that won’t drive a significant other away.
Still not convinced? Simply Google “what not brushing your teeth looks like” and, as Kosdon attests, you’ll be scared into starting and maintaining a routine that will prevent decay from taking place. Guaranteed.