Why Falling Asleep Without Brushing Your Teeth Is Actually Pretty Darn Gross

Why Falling Asleep Without Brushing Your Teeth Is Actually Pretty Darn Gross

Just how gross is it really if I forget to brush my teeth before bed every once in a while?

Falling asleep without brushing your teeth may seem like an innocent enough mistake—but it can have severe consequences for your oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth before bedtime isn’t just a chore that Mom forced you to do as a kid; it serves a very important purpose. When you don’t brush at night, over time, the bacteria in your mouth will start to build up and create plaque on the surface of your teeth. This can lead to dental problems such as cavities and gum disease.

Not only does skipping out on brushing before bedtime increase the risk of tooth decay, but it also affects how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Food particles and bacteria remain on our teeth all night long without proper cleaning, producing an unpleasant odor.

Bad news: It’s pretty gross. You probably already know that the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing those pearly whites twice a day. You also probably know that brushing your teeth is one of the easiest ways to avoid scaring off your date.

But brushing is necessary for reasons beyond fresh breath. Skip a session, and you’re on your way to encouraging the growth of bacterial buildup in the form of plaque, which can lead to cavities and gum disease.

“In the middle of the day, [run your tongue] across your teeth right around the gum line. You’ll find something sticky or fuzzy,” Deepinder “Ruchi” Sahota, DDS, a dentist in Fremont, California, and a spokesperson for the ADA, tells Best Dentist Guide. “That’s plaque.”

Brushing, thankfully, “disrupt[s] that bacteria, so it doesn’t stay in place,” she says, because if left in place, it starts to attack your teeth. Plus, the longer that plaque sits in one place, the more likely it is to become tartar, “that hard, yellow, rough material you sometimes feel in between your teeth” that can cause inflammation and bleeding in the gums, she says. Leave that untreated for too long, and you could risk losing teeth.

While there’s not exactly a precise timeline of when plaque becomes risky, “you can start the process of a cavity by not brushing once, absolutely,” says Sahota, especially if your occasional forgetfulness is more frequent than you’d like to admit. (We won’t tell.)

However, doing a so-so job brushing can be just as bad, Sahota warns. That twice-a-day routine is no joke, preferably with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. Each brushing session should last about two minutes and cover all surfaces of the teeth, not just the parts we see when we smile, she says. The ADA also recommends flossing once a day and seeing a dentist regularly to take care of the rest (like that tartar, which only a dentist can truly clean, she says).

Also, no cheating: Gum, mints, and mouthwash are no brushing replacements. All three can give your mouth a fresher feel, says Sahota, but “brushing and flossing are the only ways to effectively, physically remove the plaque.”


Forgetting to brush your teeth before bed “every once in a while” is not recommended. It can cause many dental issues and put your oral hygiene at risk. Taking the time to brush twice daily, floss, and use mouthwash will help ensure optimal dental health. If you have additional questions or concerns about your oral hygiene, speak to your dentist. Taking care of your teeth should always be a priority.

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