You’re super tired at night, and you think if you skip brushing your teeth this once, it can’t be that bad… right?

It’s not the end of the world if you skip brushing your teeth every once in a while, but there are definitely some reasons why you need to remember to brush twice a day.

Keep reading to find out more about what happens if you don’t brush your teeth and how you can optimize your oral hygiene routine.

Your mouth can be the gateway to several health problems that extend beyond a toothache or cavity.

The following are some potential problems for your teeth — and the rest of your body — that can happen if you don’t brush your teeth.

Dental health

The brushing and overall care of your teeth help to remove plaque that’s often invisible to your eyes.

Cavities

Plaque is a sticky film that coats the teeth and contains bacteria that can penetrate the protective enamel of your teeth, attacking the more vulnerable layers underneath. This leads to cavities.

If left untreated, cavities can lead to dental infections and, potentially, tooth loss. All of this is, for the most part preventable, if you brush your teeth and maintain good oral hygiene.

Gingivitis

Plaque can do more than cause cavities in the teeth — they can also weaken the gums and lead to gingivitis, a form of gum disease. The bacteria present in plaque inflame and irritate the gums. The gums become puffy and more likely to bleed.

Periodontitis

Just like plaque is a precursor to cavities, gingivitis is a precursor to periodontitis. This is a severe bone infection that impacts the bones that support your teeth. As a result, periodontitis is a leading cause of tooth loss.

Possible link to dementia

Researchers have established that those with dementia often experience dental decay at greater rates.

There is, however, some research to back the idea that dental decay could increase a person’s risk for dementia, according to a research review published in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports.

The researchers reviewed a potential link between inflammatory dental conditions, such as periodontitis, and inflammation in the brain that can lead to conditions such as dementia.

There is much more research to be conducted on this topic before medical experts can decide there’s definitely a link between dementia and dental health.

Heart disease

A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that those who brushed their teeth at least three times per day were less likely to experience atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

Going to the dentist regularly also reduced the likelihood that a person would experience heart-related complications, according to the researchers.

The study also found that a greater number of missing teeth were associated with an increased risk for heart-related conditions, such as atrial fibrillation.

There aren’t many research participants who are eager to give up brushing their teeth for a week or a year, but research can give us a pretty good guess as to what happens if you don’t brush for certain time periods.

Here’s what could happen if you don’t brush for the following durations:

  • One day: According to Shafer’s Textbook of Oral Pathology, dental plaque can start to decalcify dentin — the protective material underneath the enamel — within 48 hours. This means that you have a small window of time to eliminate plaque before it starts to penetrate and potentially damage your teeth. Brushing teeth more frequently ensures you are adequately removing plaque from your teeth to protect them.
  • One week: In addition to weakening tooth enamel, excess plaque can have a fairly smelly side effect: bad breath. The sticky food particles you would normally wash off will continue to add up, and your teeth would have that “sweater”-like feeling on them due to built-up plaque and food particles.
  • One year: It’s tough to fully predict what would happen if you didn’t brush your teeth for a year. Some of it depends on your overall health — if your body has a more active immune system, you may be able to fight off some elements of tooth decay. However, one year of built-up tooth plaque would likely lead to cavities, gum disease, and potential tooth loss. If dentists don’t advise to skip brushing for one day, definitely don’t skip out on brushing for a year.

People can have very different views on what constitutes good oral hygiene. Here’s some guidance from the American Dental Association as to how to properly care for your teeth on a daily basis:

  • Brush. Brush your teeth at twice daily with a toothpaste that contains fluoride to fight cavities. Aim to brush for at least 2 minutes to ensure you are removing as much plaque buildup as possible.
  • Floss. Floss at least once per day. If you don’t like using floss, you can try alternatives, such as water flossing, using an interdental toothbrush, or dental picks.
  • Visit your dentist. See your dentist at least once every 6 months. Some dentists may recommend you come more frequently. This is especially true if you are prone to cavities, have existing gum disease, or are at risk for gum disease.

While these are the basics of dental hygiene, there are some other steps you can take to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. These include:

  • Drinking fluoridated water. Many cities will add fluoride to their water supply to enhance dental health. Drinking from the tap can help strengthen your teeth. For example, drinking fluoridated water can decrease a child’s risk for tooth decay anywhere from 18 to 40 percent.
  • Refraining from tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco products can increase your risks for dental decay and periodontal disease.
  • Using a fluoridated mouth rinse. This can help if you’ve had a lot of cavities recently or your dentist tells you that you are at increased risks for cavities.
  • Prescription fluoride. Your dentist may prescribe a special fluoride rinse or gel to use at home if you are at high risk for cavities.
  • Upgrading to an electric toothbrush. An electric toothbrush may help to remove excess plaque buildup from your teeth.
  • Having a healthy diet. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting high-sugar foods can reduce the risks for dental decay.

You can also talk to your dentist about individual steps you can take to strengthen your teeth, such as dental sealants that can protect your back teeth.

If you forget to brush your teeth every once in a while, don’t panic.

But remember that brushing your teeth at least twice daily, flossing once a day, and visiting your dentist at least twice a year, can be vital to your overall dental health.

A regular toothbrushing routine is important to not only your oral health, but also your overall health.