QJScience: Toothbrush hygiene

Brushing your teeth is (hopefully) a routine part of everyone’s day, since we have always been taught that brushing is important in maintaining a healthy mouth. However, it is somewhat shocking to know that a toothbrush is home to various germs, ranging from bacteria to yeast.

How do these germs infect your toothbrush? Some are stored there after being transferred from your oral cavities during the brushing process. It is also possible that germs exist on the toothbrush even before they are used because packaging is not always carried out in a sterile manor.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, is that germs present in bathrooms cling to your toothbrush, even germs from toilets. The latter can be a result of improper hand washing and/or release of germs in water droplets from flushing. Next time you use your toilet, close the lid before flushing to minimize the release of germs.

In 2004, Mythbusters aired an episode testing whether or not fecal coliform, a type of bacteria that is found in the feces of warm blooded animals such as humans, could travel from a toilet to a toothbrush. 44 toothbrushes were placed in a bathroom at varying distances from the toilet, and were subject to toothpaste and distilled water daily. After one month, all brushes contained fecal coliform, regardless of their distance from the toilet.

Interestingly, two control toothbrushes that were subject to the same toothpaste and distilled water treatment but were not kept in the bathroom also contained fecal coliform, highlighting how these germs do not solely come from the toilet.

The amount of germs found on toothbrushes is typically not present at levels high enough to be dangerous, and they are impossible to completely avoid. However, there are ways to minimize them, including thoroughly rinsing your toothbrush after every use as well as soaking it in antibacterial mouth rinse as often as possible.

Germs can also be kept to a minimum by avoiding a damp environment (for example; don’t keep your toothbrush in a travelling container) and by keeping them in an upright position away from other brushes in order to avoid cross contamination. Your toothbrush should also be replaced once you have recovered from an illness, or at least every three to four months.

Although your toothbrush contains germs, brushing is still critical to maintaining a healthy mouth. In other words, don’t let this article scare you. Just remember to take the necessary steps for minimizing germs that cling to your toothbrush, such as washing your hands before brushing. This will help to ensure high levels of personal oral hygiene and will keep your dentist happy.

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