Healthy Living

Toothbrush Tactics: Give Germs the Brush-Off

Feb. 10, 2014
It’s a tough year for colds and flu. So when the sneezing and coughing subside, many of us launch cleaning attacks to rid our homes of germs. Waste baskets are emptied, door knobs are disinfected, and bed sheets are changed.
But what about our toothbrushes? Are they carrying the same nasty germs that made us sick in the first place? Should they be tossed out after you’ve been sick?
That’s not necessary, says dentist Dr. Bhumija Gupta. Current research shows that using the same toothbrush you used while you were ailing won’t make you sick again.

kitchen sink with toothbrushes

That doesn’t mean germs aren’t lurking there. Whether we're healthy or ill, the number of bacteria present on our toothbrushes at any one time can range from 10,000 to 10,000,000. Add that to the amount of bacteria found in an average family’s bathroom, where most of us keep our toothbrushes. 
What can you do to help keep germs in check? It’s more important to regularly keep your toothbrush as clean as possible and replace it every two to four months.
Follow this advice to help keep your toothbrush clean:
Store your brush away from the toilet and close the toilet lid before flushing. Every flush launches bacteria into the air that may come in contact with other things in the bathroom, like your toothbrush. 
Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly after every brushing, using hot water, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol-based mouthwash.
Let your brush air-dry before putting a cap on the head or storing it away. After rinsing your toothbrush, keep it upright and let it dry. Sealing it with a cap or container while it’s wet may foster the growth of bacteria.
Store your toothbrush away from others. Airborne bacteria can be shared between toothbrushes stored near each other in warm, moist environments like the bathroom.
Don’t share the toothpaste. Avoid spreading germs by giving each member of the family his or her own toothpaste tube. Using an individual travel-size container when someone is sick is also a good habit.
Change your toothbrush regularly. Bristles become frayed and worn with use and the brush may not clean as well. Check brushes often for this wear and replace them more frequently if needed. And toothbrushes wear out faster for some people than others. Kids’ toothbrushes may need to be replaced more often than adults’.
Bhumija Gupta, B.D.S.
Bhumija Gupta, B.D.S., is a general dentist and faculty with the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. She treats patients at UR Medicine’s Eastman Dental locations, and enjoys helping people restore their smiles.