Keep disease-spreading bathroom germs in check by following a few simple rules for toothbrush storage.
Your mouth plays host to millions of microorganisms. Whether these germs belong to the family of streptococcus, candida, influenza, herpes, or gingivitis, they all are likely to end up on your toothbrush. Because toothpaste, saliva, blood, and debris from your teeth and mouth also end up there, you can see where this might just become a full-fledged breeding ground for these pesky organisms.
Since toothbrush users will no doubt drip their germy puddles from time to time, bathroom toothbrush holders are every bacteria’s next frontier, and therefore require frequent cleaning. The removable type of toothbrush holder is much easier to clean, since it can be popped into the dishwasher. Look for the type that allows the handle bottoms – not bristles – to rest on the supporting surface, with each toothbrush in a separate hole. It is especially important to clean the unit more often when sharing among family members or roommates.
If yours is one of those built-in types where all the brushes hang while resting on the bristles, you will also have to contend with the germs that are inevitably sprouting up there. If you’re sharing the stationary type of brush holder, clean it regularly by spraying with some bleach water, vinegar, or other disinfectant. After letting it soak for several minutes, remember to rinse and dry it off thoroughly with a clean cloth before replacing toothbrushes (no one wants a mouthful of disinfectant). You may even want to “remodel” your built-in brush holder by attaching a custom-made attachment for a removable holder, or just replace it altogether.
The following is based on the recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control):
- Never share toothbrushes. They contain body fluids due to the scraping action of some of the sharper bristles. This is really important for persons with compromised immune systems or those with infectious diseases. Make sure that your toothbrush is always rinsed thoroughly so that all debris is removed. Allow it to air dry in an upright position, making sure that it does not come in contact with another toothbrush. The CDC does not have a lot of evidence proving that you will reinfect yourself from your own brush, but sharing another’s bacteria just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
- If you do soak your brush in a disinfecting solution (like alcohol-based mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide), do not share that solution with anyone, and remember to replace with new, clean solution (in a clean container) every few days.
- Toothbrushes can be damaged in dishwashers (due to the detergent and high heat), microwaves, and ultraviolet devices. Sharp bristles lead to more cutting action in the mouth and gums, which can lead to more infection.
- Humidity aids in bacterial growth. Do not cover your toothbrush except when traveling. If you are going to be traveling with the same brush for several days, you may just want to wrap it in a clean dry cloth or paper towel each time you rinse it off.
- Toothbrushes last 3-4 months with normal usage. If you are seeing splayed bristles, it’s time to replace the brush.
- If you have children, make sure to teach each of them to use only their own brush – not that of anyone else, and to rinse it completely after every use, storing it as you would your own. If children are sharing a tube of toothpaste, it’s best to dispense the paste onto a piece of wax paper before placing it on the brush in order to keep it free from contamination.
Several new toothbrush cleaning devices are coming onto the market, kind of like little countertop dishwashers just for toothbrushes. Using steam technology, manufacturers claim that these models will remove 99.9 percent of the germs on your brushes, and most models will dry the brush as well.
If those gadgets are a bit too much for your budget, however, just replacing the toothbrush will keep your mouth healthier. Most dentists do recommend replacement at three month intervals, but some oral pathologists even recommend as often as every two weeks! If you have a delicate immune system, or have just suffered a cold or respiratory infection, that might just be something to consider.
And don’t stop there; remember to use a clean cup for rinsing your mouth each time you brush your teeth. Especially if you have children, it’s going to be easier to just stock up on disposable paper cups. After all the trouble you’ve gone to in keeping your toothbrush and holder clean, there’s no sense growing a biohazard in a cup, right?