Why You Shouldn't Skip Brushing Your Teeth (Even If You're Feeling Lazy)

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When you're feeling tired and lazy, it's easy to skip your nightly toothbrushing. But is it as harmless as you hope it is when you're prematurely snuggled under the blankets and willing yourself to get up?

The short answer is no. The American Dental Association recommends that patients brush their teeth at least twice a day, morning and night for two minutes each time. Julie Cho, DMD, and ADA member, recommends spending 30 seconds brushing each quadrant of your mouth (upper left, lower left, upper right, and lower right), making sure to hit all the surfaces of the teeth, as well as the gum lines. And she has some bad news for frequent toothbrushing skippers.

"Fatigue nor laziness is not an excuse to avoid brushing," Dr. Cho says, adding that people should look at the act of brushing teeth as bookends for the day — and realize that it's all part of a healthy lifestyle. "[Brushing] is the only way to mechanically debride your mouth of bacteria, which can ​lead to​ plaque and calculus [tartar] and odor."

Unfortunately, rinsing with mouthwash or chewing gum is not a substitute for that recommended two minutes of toothbrushing. But if you need more convincing that skipping out on brushing your teeth is a bad idea, we've spoken to a few dentists to figure our just why this kind of nighttime laziness can be detrimental for our health.

Here's hoping that this will motivate us to get out of bed and into the bathroom when the sheets feel particularly warm and inviting.
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Daily brushing gets harmful bacteria out of your mouth.

When you brush your teeth, you're removing bacteria that colonizes in your mouth after you eat, says Jonathan Levine, DMD. Plus, you're also brushing away any leftover pieces of food that can cause gum irritation.

"The longer you allow bacteria to colonize and collect, the more you nurture the progression of disease," Dr. Levine says. "Brushing well and often will keep the bacterial balance in the mouth healthy and not swing to the bad bacteria that causes decay and gum disease."

The human mouth is home to billions of bacteria — some good, some bad, and some benign — so removing excess harmful bacteria via daily brushing is a good idea if you want to avoid tooth decay and oral diseases like periodontitis.
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Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Plaque can be created in a day.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but the gross stuff in your mouth is incredibly speedy at forming. Plaque, which is the sticky film that builds up on your teeth, contains that aforementioned harmful bacteria — and it forms in a mere 24 to 28 hours, according to Dr. Levine.

When plaque builds up, your mouth thinks it's an invader and responds accordingly — with inflammation. This is where the risk of gingivitis (gum disease) and periodontitis (a gum infection that can cause you to lose teeth) come in.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Cavities are irreversible.

If that one night of forgetting to brush becomes a habit, cavities will likely be in your future.

"Prolonged periods of not brushing may lead to cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease," Dr. Cho says. These conditions may develop over months or years and are usually only diagnosed once you feel pain, and they're irreversible.

Cavities, which are small holes in the enamel of your teeth (a.k.a. tooth decay), can be repaired by fillings, but the enamel itself will never grow back. You only get so much tooth enamel in a lifetime, so you want to make sure to take care of it.

Dr. Cho recommends using an electric toothbrush at home, but a toothbrush with a timer is also helpful, as it will ensure that you aren't skipping out on the recommended two minutes per brushing session.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Bacteria that causes gum disease is linked to heart disease.

Don't care about your smile? How about your heart? In October 2006, after two decades of research, the ADA confirmed the link between periodontal infections and cardiovascular disease. Many patients with cardiovascular disease also had gum disease, which creates unnecessary inflammation, a major concern when it comes to heart health.

Try to look at brushing your teeth as part of a holistic approach to wellness: Oral health connects to cardiac health by reducing your body's level of inflammation. So do your best to brush your teeth twice a day, per the ADA recommendations.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Treatment for conditions resulting from skipped brushing can be expensive.

Not only can scheduling a filling be inconvenient, but the treatment itself can be expensive.

Depending on your dentist, dental insurance, and which tooth is infected, the average price of a filling or crown can be $132 to $1,300, and a root canal can run anywhere from $762 to $2,500. If you have insurance, you'll need to talk with your insurance provider to figure out what's covered and at what rate.

Dr. Cho says that expensive dental procedures, like root canals, extractions, and implants, can all be avoided by diligently brushing.
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Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Brushing regularly will help keep your teeth looking white.

While aesthetics aren't the main reason to prioritize brushing your teeth, Dr. Levin says that obvious tooth discoloration can be an indicator that someone isn't making sure to brush each night. Of course, there's no reason to worry too much if you're brushing regularly and your teeth aren't as white as a sheet of printer paper — most subtle stains are totally benign.
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Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Not to mention, brushing will help you avoid bad breath.

When all of that aforementioned bacteria builds up, that can cause bad breath, which is known medically as halitosis and malodor.
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Brushing may be even more important if you have a period.

Some people who get periods experience menstruation gingivitis, which is when someone gets gingivitis one to two days before their period due to hormonal changes combined with underlying inflammation (caused by a lack of brushing). This will usually clear up shortly after the period starts, but until then, it can cause sore gums and bleeding. Keep in mind that these hormonal changes don't cause gum disease — but if you don't brush regularly, you are more susceptible.
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And don't forget to floss.

While brushing your teeth is certainly important, it's of course not the only recommended oral hygiene method. Flossing is incredibly important because it helps prevent tooth decay by dislodging any food stuck in the tight spaces between your teeth, which your toothbrush can't get to.

"Brushing only cleans three of five exposed tooth surfaces, 60% of the tooth," says Tim Pruett, DMD, founder of Flossolution. "If you’re not flossing, you’re missing 40% of the tooth."

So the next time you're feeling too lazy to get up and brush your teeth before bed, remember that all it takes is a few minutes of flossing and brushing each day to avoid pain, tooth decay, and expensive dental work.