Is Your Toothbrush Making You Sick?
By Cathy Hulbert, LCSW, Social Worker
Horizons in Hemophilia, April 2011
In the interest of keeping you and your family as healthy as possible, can we talk about toothbrushes and germs for just a moment? It is not necessarily a pleasant topic, but it is an important one, particularly when someone in your home is prone to bleeding gums, which increases the body’s exposure to germs.
Doctors are learning more and more about how the health of your mouth can impact your whole body, including your heart and joints. And we all know that regular visits to your dentist are extremely important. Here is some information about what you can do at home between visits to maintain the quality of your toothbrushes.
First, it is important to note that your toothbrush will probably never be the cleanest item in your house, no matter how hard you try. The human mouth is home to lots of germs, even in healthy people, according to doctors and dentists. Your body’s natural defenses usually handle these intruders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that it has no actual study results to show that a poorly maintained toothbrush, never cleaned between brushings, contributes to more instances of getting sick. Still, dentists who are vocal on the subject ask that common sense prevail: There are plenty of reminders to keep hands clean so that illness-causing germs cannot get into the body when dirty hands touch the eyes, mouth or nasal passages. So why is there so little discussion about keeping our toothbrushes clean for the very same reason? Some dentists even recommend dipping the bristle part of your brush in an antiseptic mouthwash for at least 30 seconds after brushing. But don’t leave it there. Toothbrushes need to air dry to be at their best.
According to the CDC, a simple regimen for toothbrush care is sufficient to remove many microorganisms from your toothbrush and limit the spread of disease. Here are some common-sense steps you can take:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after brushing or flossing.
- After brushing, rinse your toothbrush with warm water and store it upright to air-dry, preferably at least six feet away from the toilet. If this is impossible in your bathroom, store the toothbrushes in another room, such as the bedroom.
- Always replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head (if electric) after a cold or other illness to prevent contamination.
- If you or someone else in your family is sick, that person should use a different tube of toothpaste (travel size, for example), to prevent spreading germs to other toothbrushes.
- Do not cover your toothbrush or place it in a closed container until it is completely dry. A moist environment can foster bacterial growth.
- Use a completely dry toothbrush. Everyone should have two toothbrushes to give ample time (24 hours) for them to dry out in between uses.
- Don't share a toothbrush with anyone. Also, do not store toothbrushes in a way that might cause them to touch and spread germs. Many families share germs by keeping multiple toothbrushes in one container.
- Replace your toothbrush every three or four months. Dentists recommend this practice not so much as prevention against contamination, but because toothbrushes get worn out and become less effective at cleaning teeth and the potentially destructive plaque that grows on them.
"The use and handling of toothbrushes", Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Toothbrush care, cleaning and replacement", American Dental Association. "Statement on Toothbrush Care: Cleaning, Storage and Replacement", American Dental Association.