You may be asleep, but that doesn’t mean your body isn’t a scene of intense activity. Your body responds to sleep in ways that can be dangerous to your oral health if you don’t respond to it properly.
For most people, saliva production decreases when you sleep. This helps your body to avoid producing too much saliva that would either require you to swallow frequently during sleep, or could lead to significant fluid loss as saliva escapes from your mouth due to muscle relaxation.
Bacteria Get Busy
Saliva is one of your body’s natural defenses against bacteria. Saliva can kill bacteria and help break up the protective film, plaque, that bacteria produce to keep saliva away. However, when your body reduces saliva production, bacteria find themselves in a more hospitable environment. They can eat and reproduce freely.
One problem with bacteria going crazy in your mouth at night is that because you’re not eating at night, they find less carbs to feed on, so they turn to a less efficient food source: protein, which may include your body’s mucous membranes. In the process of digesting protein, bacteria will give off sulphurous gases, which is why you may notice bad morning breath, which can be a warning sign for periodontal disease.
Your Muscles May Relax
For most people, when we sleep, our muscles just relax. This is mostly good, it’s what they’re supposed to do, and they need the rest. But if you have a certain anatomical configuration of your airway and jaw, the muscles may relax to the point that they let your airway close. This causes obstructive sleep apnea, as your tissues prevent you from breathing.
Or Your Muscles May Tense
About 8-16% of people experience what is called sleep bruxism, which is when your teeth clench while you sleep. This may occur very frequently, and can involve bite forces many times what you can consciously force. Bruxism is considered a leading cause of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and may be found in up to two-thirds of TMJ sufferers.
Taking Care of Your Mouth at Night
To avoid potential consequences of what goes on in your mouth at night, it’s important that you take proper care of your mouth at night. Brush and floss your teeth at night before bed. Use an antiseptic rinse, if recommended. Get diagnosed for conditions like sleep bruxism and sleep apnea, which can both be controlled with oral appliance therapy.