If you don’t brush your teeth for one day or night, whilst it’s not ideal, nothing much is likely to happen. If you regularly fail to brush your teeth, in the short term you will encounter problems such as plaque & tartar build up, and bad breath, and in the long term more serious problems such as tooth decay, tooth loss and gum disease.
We discuss these and other issues in more detail below.
Brushing your teeth should be an essential part of your daily routine, no matter your age or circumstances.
What actually happens if you do not brush your teeth will very much depend on how long you choose not to brush your teeth for, your diet and general health.
Your teeth are not likely to just fall out if you fail to brush, but doing so will cause a chain of health issues that will likely lead to eventual tooth loss.
If you simply forget to brush one day is one thing, actively choosing not to brush is another.
Not brushing for 24 hours
Let’s be honest, most of us have probably at some point gone without brushing our teeth once in a day, be that intentionally or not.
There are probably a fare few of us who have not brushed for even longer, be that 24 or 48 hours. Heck, I have when I was testing out plaque disclosing tablets.
However, this is by no means advisable and you really should follow the advice of dental professionals and governing bodies like the NHS and ADA.
As Downtown Dental Clinic put it, ‘the buildup of plaque that causes gum disease can occur within a 24 hour period’.
If you have gone without brushing your teeth you probably know how bad it feels when you don’t.
I know from purposely not brushing, that my teeth have felt sticky and sort of fury to the touch, my breath smelt and tasted bad and I just felt a bit more conscious.
That was just after 24 hours and the results of my plaque disclosing tests clearly showed the importance of brushing.
Likely results of not brushing your teeth
It is not possible to conclusively say what will happen if you do not brush your teeth, because there are so many variables.
For example, someone who does not brush their teeth but drinks only water, eats very healthily and exercises is likely to fare better than someone who eats a lot of sugary foods, drinks sugar rich drinks, and partakes in no exercise.
However, genetics, personal bodily and dental health all play a part too.
The likely effects of failing to brush your teeth are:
- Plaque build up
Plaque is one the of the main reasons we brush our teeth and is in part the cause of many of the other negative effects of failing to brush.
Developing in less than 24 hours, if not cleaned away by toothbrushing, the bacteria feeds on the sugars in the mouth and grows.
Over time the plaque will get thicker and heavier and will eventually harden into tartar.
As the plaque forms, it does so in places like the gingival crevice between the tooth and the gum. The bacteria can irritate the gum, causing them to swell, become red, sensitive and bleed. This will be the early stages of gum disease.
- Make current conditions worse
Failing to look after the teeth in your mouth will mean that the bacteria inside is can continue to form and worsen. The imbalance in bacteria can lead to higher levels of nasty bacteria in the body.
This travels through the body, potentially causing damage to your immune system, the body’s natural defence to health issues.
Pre-existing conditions like diabetes will only get worse with poor oral health care. (American Diabetes Association)
A hard deposit that forms on the teeth, it does so as the result of failing to effectively remove plaque.
It takes some time for this to form, but when it does it is very resistant to removal and even dentist and hygienist professional tools will be limited in what they can remove subject to the severity.
- Gum disease
Failing to brush your teeth will likely lead to gum disease.
Early gum disease, also called gingivitis.
In most cases the gums will become inflamed, swollen, sensitive, Red in colour and bleed.
It is often at this stage treatable, more often than not from adopting a strong brushing and flossing routine.
It can take just a few days for the onset of gum disease.
Living with such can be uncomfortable and affect your mood and general health because you feel down or depressed with the condition of your mouth.
Failing to treat this can eventually lead to periodontitis and advanced periodontitis. If either of the last stages occurs, gum disease is no longer reversible. The likelihood of tooth loss is high.
- Bad breath
With all the nasty bacteria not being brushed away and feeding on the sugars in the mouth your breath will likely take and a unpleasant smell and taste.
Brushing cleans away the bacteria before it can make your breath smell and taste bad.
- Lack of confidence
This is more of a psychological effect of failing to brush rather than a physical one.
If you end up with bad breath, gum disease and decay of the teeth as a result of not brushing, you are likely to feel sorry for yourself and have less confidence when out and about, be that in public or around family and friends.
You will be more conscious of your mouth and become quieter and more reserved, smile less and generally feel worse and less confident about who you are and what you are doing.
- Poor health
Whilst the direct links between oral health and other medical conditions are hard to prove there is evidence and suggestion that they are linked.
Although the evidence does not necessarily confirm links, sometimes common sense must prevail and you need to realise that by failing to take care of your mouth will likely lead to other health complications.
The link with conditions like diabetes is well reported but advanced stages of gum disease may well be associated with bone density.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) have supported research that suggests the use of dental x-rays can be used as a screening for conditions like osteoporosis.
It’s fair to say that if you don’t brush your teeth you are unlikely to go and visit the dentist, where x-rays form part of routine examinations and could potentially pick up on these other life changing conditions.
As the plaque builds up and hardens the bacteria is slowly eating away at the tooth surface.
Doing so it chips away at a microscopic level before that perfectly formed tooth begins to look nothing like it did before.
Teeth with decay will take on odd shapes, blacken, often become infected and very sensitive as the more more receptive and less protected inner layers of the tooth are exposed.
- Tooth loss
Actual tooth loss will likely be one of the later results of failing to brush the teeth.
If you have managed to get through the pain and other health implications of not brushing, not to mention the confidence issues of having poorly maintained teeth, then teeth may begin to come loose or fall out or have to be removed by a dentist.
By this point you are likely going to have no option but to seek professional assistance as the pain, discomfort and possible infection might just be too much.
- Heart disease
Research has shown a possible link between oral health and heart disease.
The bacteria that develops as plaque o your teeth can transition and develop on the arteries that feed vital organs like the heart and eventually case heart disease.
Although there is yet to be conclusive evidence, “the mouth can be a good warning signpost,” says Ann Bolger, M.D., William Watt Kerr Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“People with periodontitis often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown.”
Whilst questions remain over the links, do you want to take the risk? Failing to brush your teeth will potentially make you a statistic in proving a link.
- Cognitive problems
A systematic review of previous studies believe that there is a link between chewing and blood flow to the brain. This blood flow impacts the brain’s ability to act and function to its fullest.
Those with 20 teeth or less are 26% more likely to develop cognitive issues that could lead to Alzheimer’s.
The loss of teeth is often linked to poor oral health, so you know what you need to do.
600 types of bacteria in the mouth
If the above has not already convinced you on why you should brush your teeth, perhaps this will.
The Harvard Gazette has written how the human mouth is home to over 600 types of bacteria.
Some of these are good, protecting our mouths, but many are able to do real damage. The biggest offending bacteria is plaque.
As the gazette puts it ‘a coating of bacterial film that feeds on the residual sugars left in your mouth. It produces acids that eat away tooth enamel and cause cavities, or small holes, to form. Those lingering sugars are like a banquet to plaque bacteria.
Cavemen didn’t and animals don’t brush so why do I need to?
It is quite common for those with poor dental health or questioning the need for brushing to quote prehistoric man and animals.
Whilst the evolution of the toothbrush has really only excelled within the last 100 years, brushing utensils date back to 3500 BC.
More recently a team at Spain’s Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), found at the Cova Foradà site in Valencia, Spain, a fossil of a human skull complete with teeth which researchers estimate at 50,000 to 150,000 years old.
Having assessed the teeth found embedded in the upper jaw of an ancient skull fossil, they showed signs that toothpicks were used, even then.
Whilst the modern toothbrush might not have been used as we know it, it is interesting to see that tools were used.
However, there is another big factor that plays a part in why humans need to brush their teeth in comparison to animals and even our ancestors.
That reason is our diet.
Many of the foods we humans eat are rich in sugars, which bacteria loves.
When you don’t brush your teeth, this bacteria feeds on the sugars.
This then over time turns into a plaque film, which will get harder and will form something called tarter.
As this happens the bacteria is also eating away at the tooth surface and around the gumline, irritating it and causing gingivitis or what many of us know as gum disease.
If you have bleeding gums, this could be a sign of the early stages of gum disease.
The result of not brushing for 20 years
If you really want to see a real life example of what happens if you do not brush your teeth, then the following video perhaps gives the best modern day example of the consequences.
21 year old James admits to having taken no real care of his teeth over the years and eaten all the wrong things.
As his teeth became worse, the more frightened he became of the dentist and thus took no action to rectify the problem sooner.
Dr James Russell who oversaw the reconstruction of James’s smile highlights that his gums were in relatively good shape and there was not all that much sign of gum disease, but there was severe decay. The teeth were caked in lots of plaque and tartar that had build up over the years.
After a thorough cleaning, CT scan and examination it was determined that James was actually suitable for dental implants.
11 teeth had to come out, and make way for the implants. These are an effective, but very expensive dental procedure that was able to give him back his smile and confidence.
The words of South East Family Dental I believe sum up the question of ‘what happens if you don’t brush your teeth?’ best..
It’s just a fact of life, and while good oral hygiene can help abate the build-up of bacteria, the presence of these little critters is normal, and part of every healthy mouth. The problem, however, is that bacteria eat the food particles left on our teeth, and release substances that corrode enamel over time, leading to tooth decay.
If you want to enjoy tooth decay and the associated problems that go with such, you are most welcome.
You will be opting to go against advice from leading organisations and putting your overall health at risk.