night shift worker in a factory

In today’s day and age, work and careers can look very different from person to person. For many employees, a work schedule can include late nights, weekends, and even overnight shifts. This is especially true for individuals who work in fields that require 24-hour coverage, such as nurses, factory workers, police officers, truck drivers, etc.  

While you may be aware of the effects of late hours and overnight shifts on your overall health and wellness, you may not know about the effects of night shifts on your oral health.  

Read on to learn about how overnight shifts can affect your oral health, when to see your dentist, and how to ensure that your teeth and gums are as healthy as possible at all times.  

How Do Night Shifts Affect Oral Health? 

Saliva Production: The most notable effect of night shifts on the teeth and gums relates to the disruption of a regular sleep pattern. Saliva works to keep your mouth healthy by keeping it moist and flushing away any food debris or acidic matter that might affect the health of your teeth. What many overnight workers don’t realize is that saliva production decreases by half during the overnight hours. Lower saliva production during hours of work and meals can increase the risk of developing cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease.  

 Eating Habits: Late or overnight workers typically consume more snacks, soda, energy drinks, and junk food to feel energized throughout their shift. These drinks and snacks can wreak havoc on your oral health as they are typically full of sugar and acids that can contribute to enamel erosion and eventual damage to the teeth and gums. When these foods and drinks are combined with decreased saliva production, the damage to oral health can be serious.  

Oral Hygiene Schedule: When you get home from a late or overnight shift, odds are you are extremely tired and just want to crawl into bed as soon as possible. When exhaustion takes hold, we are less likely to take the time we usually do to care for our physical and mental health. This means that the practice of a regular and effective oral hygiene routine is often neglected or forgotten. While we know that the teeth are already vulnerable due to the issues described above, not brushing and flossing before hitting the hay can cause cavities and gum disease.   

Stress Levels: Research has shown that stress levels are consistently significantly higher in those who work overnight shifts. Stress can affect the teeth by increasing instances of clenching and grinding (bruxism) which accelerates the effects of wear and enamel damage.  

Increased Gastric Issues: Studies have also linked higher instances of gastric issues in overnight workers. These issues can include chronic indigestion, chronic inflammation of the gut and/or bowel, and chronic heartburn/acid reflux. Increased acid levels can affect the teeth by causing enamel erosion, which eventually leads to tooth damage and gum disease.  

How Can I Support My Oral Health as an Overnight Worker? 

While it may not be possible to avoid overnight shifts, there are a few things you can do to help support your oral health and prevent dental problems down the road.  

  • Brush your teeth twice daily for at least two minutes each time using a fluoride toothpaste 
  • Increase your water intake, especially during your overnight shifts, in order to offset the effects of decreased saliva production 
  • Floss once daily 
  • Maintain a balanced and healthy diet and avoid overly sugary or acidic foods and drinks 
  • See your dentist regularly for routine checkups and cleanings  

When to See Your Dentist 

Outside of seeing your dentist every 6 months for regular checkups, here are some of the signs that you need to see your dentist as soon as possible:  

  • Tender or bleeding gums  
  • Painful, loose, or shifting teeth  
  • Receding gums  
  • Sores or bumps on the gum tissue, tongue, or lips  

Are you concerned that your work schedule or daily routine might be affecting your oral health? If you want to learn more about how to optimize your oral health or want to schedule an appointment with us, contact our Guelph dentist’s office today!