Late Night Snacking and Oral Health

In the 1984 Spielberg-produced cult classic Gremlins, a man purchases a strange pet called a Mogwai to give his teenage son for Christmas. The pet comes with three specific instructions: never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and most importantly, no matter how much it cries or begs, never ever feed it after midnight. Over the course of the film’s plot these rules are of course broken, and the boy finds that light causes the creature pain, and water makes it multiply. When the creatures are fed after midnight, however, the consequences are even more dire; they transform into reptilian monsters that go on a rampage.

Pizza

Late night snacking is not only bad for Mogwai, but for you as well. Admit it, you’ve done it before. Sometimes you just get a hankering for something sweet or salty and have to grab some comfort food when you’re up late at night. While you’re not likely to transform into an evil monster from your late night snacking habits, you do suffer adverse health consequences. Physicians have told us for many years that such habits are bad for our waistlines, but did you know they are also damaging to teeth? A 2010 study from Denmark found a correlation between late night snacking and tooth loss. More than 2000 participants were followed over a six year period and the 8% who were classified as nocturnal eaters were found to have greatly increased rates of tooth loss. This even held true when cancelling out factors like age, smoking status, diabetic status, and BMI.

Why late night snacking is bad for your teeth

This finding makes sense, and the reason behind it is probably the same reason dentists tell you to make sure to brush your teeth before retiring to bed. At night, our salivary flow slows down significantly. One of the purposes of saliva is to wash away food particles and buffer the acid created by bacteria. With a reduced salivary flow, your mouth becomes dry and the bacteria can go crazy if you habitually feed them during these times.

Another likely reason for this is the types of foods consumed late at night. You’re probably not going to the fridge to get a salad or cucumber slices late at night. You’re looking for leftover pizza, cereal, cookies, or soda pop. These foods are high in simple sugars and carbohydrates, and are the perfect foods for cavity-causing bacteria.

Recommendations

To protect your teeth, follow these recommendations from your Orem, UT dentists at Canyon Gate Dental:

  • The best solution is to avoid eating late at night altogether
  • If you must eat, go for healthier foods like carrot sticks that aren’t packed with sugars and carbs.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything but water after you brush and floss at night.
  • Try to avoid eating or drinking anything but water for an hour prior to going to bed.
  • Brush and floss extremely well before bed. Do it every single night.

Nicolas K. Young, DMD