The Truth Behind the Bristles: Your Toothbrush's Dirty Secret
Not to freak you out, but a recent study from the University of Manchester in England says that one uncovered toothbrush stored in a bathroom could be home to more than 100 million bacteria. The same study found the dreaded E. coli bacteria present - which is notorious for causing diarrhea – as well as staphylococci bacteria, which can cause skin infections.
So, if our toothbrushes are harboring so much nasty bacteria, how are we supposed to keep our teeth clean?!
Let’s look at the facts, shall we? First of all, the purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove bacteria that cause plaque from our teeth. So a toothbrush is going to come out of our mouths technically, ‘dirty’ – that’s just good dental hygiene. Further, the mouth is naturally home to millions of microorganisms, anyway, so it’s not like our bodies can’t take a little bacteria. What’s important about this study is that we should be vigilant about our efforts for toothbrush care.
Another fact: brushing your teeth most often occurs in a bathroom. Bathrooms have toilets. Toilets have bacteria (notably E. coli, which can be found in fecal matter). Gross. But there it is. Keep your toothbrush away from the toilet for optimal dental hygiene.
Can you get sick brushing your teeth with a microorganism-infested toothbrush? Probably not. A healthy body’s natural defenses can keep most bacteria at bay.
Yet another fact: If you share your toothbrush with someone else, their bacteria get on your toothbrush. That’s not good dental hygiene, especially if they’re sick or you’re sick or immunocompromised in any way (on chemo therapy, for example). And because sometimes we get sick without showing symptoms right away, sharing a toothbrush is a big no-no. And that means sharing with anyone. Someone else’s bacteria don’t care if a new mouth belongs to your boyfriend or wife or kid. It will likely upset the balance of bacteria in that new mouth – and that’s where trouble begins.
So, here are some toothbrush care tips:
- Change your toothbrush (or electric toothbrush head) every three to four months – more frequently if you or your child are sick. The ADA recommends it for optimal dental hygiene, so you should do it. Period.
- Rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing your teeth. Toothbrush sanitizers currently on the market are acceptable, as well, but not necessarily any better.
- Let your toothbrush dry properly. Avoid using any kind of toothbrush cover or cap after brushing your teeth – they can create a moist bacteria breeding-ground. Just allow the brush to air dry.
- Store your toothbrush upright and ‘alone.’ When you lay a toothbrush on a countertop to dry, whatever bacteria lives on that countertop could migrate to your toothbrush. Also, keeping multiple toothbrushes in a cup increases the likelihood of their touching, thus swapping germs.
- No sharing. Children and adults should have their own, easily identifiable toothbrushes.
While this recent study might be enough to make you consider never brushing your teeth again, it’s important to remember that your teeth need to be brushed. They don’t clean themselves. Good dental hygiene means removing plaque-forming bacteria by brushing your teeth. That’s much more important than the potential germs your toothbrush collects from the air. Follow these few basic toothbrush care guidelines and all you’ll have to worry about is what color your toothbrush is.