Houston, Texas 77007
By Jen Laskey
Donna L. Zak, D.D.S., of Zak and Frankel Dental Associates in New York City answers all your nighttime oral health questions.
What is the biggest dental concern for adults?
Keeping your mouth healthy. Oral health can mean different things for different people. It's important to gain an understanding of your own susceptibility to dental disease. This will help you determine specific concerns and what you'll need to do to address them.
Why is nighttime oral hygiene important?
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 those bacteria anything to feed off.
What are the appropriate steps for caring for your teeth at night?
Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash. The order doesn't matter as long as the food particles and plaque are removed. My preference is for brushing, flossing, and then rinsing with mouthwash because I feel that brushing first makes it easier to floss.
Should you brush right after dinner or wait until you're about to go to bed?
This really depends on the person. We don't all have the same susceptibility to dental disease — this concept is new to the profession. We are now following medical models of disease to target treatment planning for patients and to determine how much additional 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.
Why is flossing once a day so important for adults?
Flossing is important because it removes plaque buildup and any food particles that may be caught in between the teeth. It is necessary to remove the plaque while it is still soft. Once the plaque hardens and forms tartar, only a professional cleaning by a hygienist or dentist can remove it. Flossing once a day is the standard recommendation; people who are very susceptible to gum disease or tartar buildup may want to consider flossing twice a day or even after every meal.
Are there any precautions a person can take against teeth grinding while asleep?
Teeth grinding is considered to be an "above the nose" issue, meaning that there is something in the brain wiring that tells a person to grind his or her teeth. Dentists can't stop that from happening, but we can protect the teeth from the effects of grinding. If grinding is an issue for you, the best thing to do is to have a mouthguard made and wear it at night. You will then grind into the mouthguard instead of your teeth, which will minimize the damage to your teeth.
Grinding, however, is not as common as dental professionals recently believed. Many people clench their teeth, but true grinding occurs only among 5 to 10 percent of the population. New studies show that the type of wear on patients' teeth that was previously thought to be produced by nighttime grinding is often the result of chewing — problems with the way a patient chews can damage the teeth in a similar way.
Do you have any recommendations for helping people wake up with better breath?
This is a hard one. There are some new mouthwashes on the market that claim you will wake up with better breath, but I haven't tried them, and I don't think it is really possible. If you keep up your daytime and nighttime oral hygiene routine, your mouth should stay in good shape.