The Grossest Thing in the Bathroom: Your Toothbrush

How clean is your toothbrush? How clean is your toothbrush? "If you have your toothbrush too close to the toilet," microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, tells WebMD, "you are brushing your teeth with what's in your toilet." He explains that when you flush with the lid open, contaminated water vapor settles on surfaces in your bathroom. And that's not the only way germs pollute your toothbrush.

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Brushing your teeth removes bacteria, food debris, and blood and saliva that might be infected with a virus. If you don't rinse the bristles properly, you will be putting these contaminants right back into your mouth the next time you brush. Many families store their toothbrushes jammed together in a cup or holder, which can also cause cross contamination.

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The average toothbrush harbors 10 million microbes, including germs like influenza viruses, herpes simplex I, streptococcus, staphylococcus, as well as bacteria that cause gum disease and cavities. Because of the sheer variety of germs, they can harbor more pathogens than the average toilet seat. Some of these microscopic creepy crawlies can survive for days. "Your toothbrush is the perfect breeding ground for these bugs," Dr. R. Tom Glass, professor emeritus of oral pathology at the University of Oklahoma tells USA Today. "There is food and water, and the brush itself provides the portal of entry into your body." Basically, he says, "Your toothbrush is an enriched Petri dish on a stick."

It's important to brush your teeth twice a day to prevent decay. These tips will help keep your toothbrush-and mouth-free of harmful bacteria.

  • Don't share toothbrushes and store different family members' toothbrushes at least an inch apart.
  • Rinse thoroughly after using.
  • Allow toothbrush to air dry after each use, preferably in an upright position. This will keep bacteria from breeding. Don't store in a small, moist, closed container.
  • Replace your toothbrush after having a cold or the flu.
  • If you have a compromised immune system, rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash before you clean your teeth. This can reduce the germs passed to your toothbrush.
  • Get a new toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or more frequently if you notice the bristles breaking down. While this won't reduce bacteria, it will ensure the best cleaning power.

What about sanitizers? The American Dental Association (ADA) says there is no evidence to show that commercial sanitizers completely sterilize toothbrushes although soaking in an antibacterial mouthwash can reduce the prevalence of microorganisms. They also recommend against trying to disinfect your toothbrush by putting it in the dishwasher or microwave which can damage the plastic.

Check out the ADA's new website, www.mouthhealthy.org, for more tips on oral health care.

 

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