What Happens When You Don't Brush Your Teeth

Almost everyone has failed from time to time to do one of the simplest health tasks we are taught from the moment our chompers begin to descend: brushing our teeth.

Teeth-brushing is a daily habit that combats the morning bad-breath monster (i.e., halitosis) and wipes away dinner residue and red-wine stains. Fresh breath is a make-out session must and well-advised before any business meeting.

Yet there are times we skip brushing our teeth. We may fall asleep instantly after a libation-filled night out. Or we may crash at a friend’s place for the weekend without a toothbrush.

But if we fail to brush on a regular basis, there's more at stake than just an increased risk of cavities. It abets more than 600 different kinds of bacteria: some good, but most awful, like the kind that create plaque.

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If you think you're too busy to brush, you’re not alone.

Thirty percent of Americans don't brush twice a day, as recommended by the American Dental Association. Some 23 percent go without brushing for two or more days over the course of a year. This video explains it:

And there’s the issue of flossing daily, which requires even more time and coordination: 31 percent of Americans floss less than once daily, and 18.5 percent don’t floss at all.

Next time you’re about to walk out the door or fall asleep without brushing those pearly (maybe) whites, know that the health risks are far greater than simply allowing your teeth to achieve a color your dentist will recognize.

Pass through the gates

The mouth is the gateway to rest of the body. When your gums are not healthy, or you have small cuts in your gums, bacteria that live in the mouth can affect your entire body.

There are many theories as to to why, but most center around the idea that large quantities of bacteria and their byproducts can enter the bloodstream, causing a condition known as bacteremia, dentist Mark Lamborn said. This can result in potential heart and lung infections. Chronic inflammation of the mouth (from severe gum disease, also known as gingivitis or periodontitis) can result in swelling in other parts of the body.  

Poor mouth hygiene won’t give you heart disease, but if you’re already at risk, your chances of developing such illness increase if you don't brush, said spiritualist Deepak Chopra, who also has a medical degree.

While research hasn't established a direct cause and effect, other research suggests a correlation between periodontal disease, plaque and various diseases, Lamborn said.


A photo posted by Gardenia (@nostalgia_home) on

Baby bump up

There's also a surprising correlation between oral hygiene and pregnancy. Women with gum disease took, on average, seven months to conceive, compared to five months for women without it. The inflammation associated with gum disease is likely the cause.

Swishing non-alcohol antimicrobial mouthwash has been linked to a decreased rate of premature births in high-risk populations. The theory is that gum-disease-induced inflammation may trigger (or at least factor) in premature births.

Brain drain

If plaque-free teeth and fresh breath are not reason enough, brush for your brain. Male and female retirement community residents who didn’t brush their teeth daily had a greater chance of developing dementia than those who did, according to an 18-year longitudinal study of more than 5,400 retirement community members,

It is also wise to keep your mouth healthy to avoid losing teeth. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found a correlation between people who lost teeth, especially before the age of 35, and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in later life.

Brush up on mouth musts

The American Dental Association suggests brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. If you brush and floss correctly, it will not hurt to do more," Lamborn said. "For some people, it’s important to brush and floss after every meal. It’s also a good idea to brush after sugary snacks and soda/energy drinks because of their strong cariogenic [cavity-causing] effects.”

“Brushing and flossing is the most effective way when it comes to fighting bacteria in your mouth," Lamborn added. "Nothing can replace the mechanical disturbance of bacteria colonies in plaque. In fact, a lot of products that are advertised to clean better than brushing or flossing do not remove plaque as well. It is important to use a soft toothbrush to protect your gums; mouth rinses and sugar-free gum, or gum with Xylitol, can be helpful in combination with brushing and flossing to kill bacteria, reduce caries [cavities], and help strengthen your teeth.”

You should replace your toothbrush every three to four months. A simple incentive is to get a toothbrush you actually like using — favorite color, ideal pressure (hard or soft), motorized versus traditional, etc.

You could even save on the plastic in landfills by looking into this (potential) life-long toothbrush.

Goodwell toothbrush

If you already have periodontal disease and one or more risk factors for heart disease, periodontists and cardiologists recommend having a medical evaluation for heart complications. Persons with heart disease should also have appointments to check for periodontal disease.

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