A Guide to Nighttime Oral Care

Your teeth are especially vulnerable while you’re asleep, so you need to take steps to protect them before you go to bed.  During sleep, several things happen over which you have no control.  Saliva production is decreased, so any bacteria in your mouth flourishes unchecked.  If you sleep with your mouth open, any saliva produced is quickly evaporated.  Some people grind their teeth while asleep.  Bruxism (tooth-grinding) is harmful because it wears teeth down and loosens them.  Left untreated, bruxism will cause your teeth to break and fall out.

Brush your teeth immediately before bed.  Brush for two minutes, brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth, as well, and do not eat after you brush.  Bacteria live in those places too, not just on your teeth and gums.

Floss thoroughly immediately before bed.  Floss alternatives like Waterpik ™ and Superfloss ™ are available if traditional flossing is difficult.  The purpose of flossing is to remove plaque and food that brushing missed.  Bridges and braces have additional places for plaque and food to accumulate.  Ask your dental professional for advice on the best floss alternative for your situation.

Hydrate.  Keep a glass, mug, or cup containing water close to your bed.  If you wake up, take a few sips to keep your mouth moist.

Avoid eating after brushing.  If you get hungry during the night, be sure to brush again before going back to bed.

Bite Splints are available for people who grind their teeth while sleeping.   Bite splints are custom fitted to your teeth by your dentist, and fit over your teeth.  They protect your teeth from being loosened by the force exerted on them by grinding and clenching during sleep.  This condition is called bruxism; if left untreated, bruxism can wear down enamel, cause headaches, jaw problems, broken teeth, and tooth loss.   Because your facial muscles are being overused by grinding, bruxism can change the appearance of your face, and damage your hearing.

Because grinding occurs during sleep, most bruxers are unaware of their condition, especially if they sleep by themselves.   Teeth grinding is noisy, so many bruxers learn of their condition when their roommates or sleeping partners complain.  There are several reasons why some people grind their teeth while sleeping.  Stress, anxiety, and an abnormal bite are the most common reasons.  Some medications also increase nighttime grinding.  Alcohol consumption seems to increase grinding, as does caffeine and nicotine use.

Taking the time to properly brush and floss at night is an easy way to keep your mouth healthy and your smile intact.  You’ll reduce the chances for bacteria to damage your teeth and for plaque to irritate your gums.  If your dentist has fitted you with a bite splint, wear it as directed.  If you believe you may grind your teeth at night, make an appointment to discuss it with your dentist.  Your dentist will be able to correct grinding without the use of a bite splint.  It’s much easier to prevent dental problems than to fix them.