Tips to Help Prevent Your Toothbrush from Making You Sick

Brushing teeth is a no-brainer for dental health, as any dentist will attest, but can tooth-brushing have a down side?  First, most of us have been taught how to use a toothbrush correctly, e.g., don’t brush too hard, brush up-and-down, not side-to-side, and avoid damaging gum tissue.  But there is another aspect of dental hygiene that is seldom discussed:  toothbrush maintenance.  A new article from Infection Control Today provides helpful tips on maintaining your toothbrush. We highlight some of these tips below and add a bit of our own perspective.


The Toothbrush in the Bathroom

It probably comes as no surprise that your toothbrush harbors bacteria from your mouth. However, the common arrangement of a toothbrush holder on a bathroom counter could promote your exposure to fecal germs.  How?  Flushing the toilet sends a contaminated aerosol mist into the air that can settle on surfaces, including your toothbrush.  Gross!

To avoid this scenario, when the toilet and wash basin are located in the same room, store your family’s toothbrushes—they should not be touching one another—as far away from the toilet as is practically possible.   Toothbrushes should be stored upright so that water, used to thoroughly rinse the brush after its use, can better drain from the bristles, promoting drying.  Drying is important because a damp brush is germ-friendly real estate.

Toothbrushes should not be enclosed in dark drawers or cabinets with poor air circulation.  Additionally, as a matter of good hygiene, get in the habit—and teach the kids—to lower the toilet lid before flushing.  Disinfect bathroom surfaces regularly, more frequently when a family member is sick1.

Maintain Your Toothbrush—Your Teeth Will Thank You

toothbrushYour toothbrush should last about three to four months. Ditch your toothbrush sooner if the bristles are worn and frayed or after you have had a cold or any illness that can be transmitted through bodily fluids.

According to the Infection Control Today article, soaking toothbrushes in an antibacterial mouth rinse can reduce the level of bacteria that grows on toothbrushes.  This can be done overnight on a weekly basis.  The article also suggests using an antibacterial mouth rinse prior to brushing teeth to cut down on germs transferred from the mouth to the toothbrush.  (This may seem backwards at first, but it actually makes sense.)  Finally, good old hand-washing plays a role here too.  Approach the job of brushing your teeth with clean hands to help prevent transferring germs to the toothbrush.

Your teeth will thank you with a winning smile for using these tips for better oral hygiene!

Bruce Bernard, PhD, is President of SRA Consulting, Inc. and Associate Editor of the International Journal of Toxicology.

1 Bathroom surfaces may be cleaned with an all-purpose cleaner and then disinfected by applying a solution of ½ tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of clear water. Air dry.