Just how gross is it really if people forget to brush their teeth before bed every once in a while? The answer: 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 friends. But brushing is important for reasons beyond fresh breath. Skip a session, and you're on your way to encouraging the growth of bacterial build-up 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, “That's plaque."
Brushing, thankfully, "disrupts 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.
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."