Every morning and most evenings we go to the bathroom, grab a toothbrush, and brush our teeth. And then put the brush somewhere.
If you’re not careful, firstly with cleaning this brush and secondly with storing that brush, you have likely got more than toothpaste all over your teeth: a bacchanal of happy microorganisms is likely now in your mouth, depending on where you place it With this brush, you’ve set it up for even more microorganisms: in some ways around 10 million microorganisms.
A few years ago, researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, England, isolated up to 10 million microorganisms, including staph, yeast and E. coli-like bacteria, on a single toothbrush – well, it’s the bathroom. Guess.
It’s even more disgusting when you share a bathroom. In a 2015 study, Quinnipiac University researchers collected toothbrushes from shared bathrooms. They found that 60% of the toothbrushes contained fecal coliforms and a gag-worthy 80% chance it wasn’t their poop. A 2020 study found that not much had changed except for one particular evil that lasted for a few weeks.
Before you start brushing your teeth in the kitchen, you should be aware that your toothbrush and its contents are unlikely to make you sick. The body’s immune system neutralizes most of these microorganisms. That’s not to say that germs from your brush may not cause any health problems.
So what can you do to keep your toothbrush as clean as possible?
First, wash your hands before brushing, and don’t brush where you rinse. Flushing a toilet releases germs into the air and feces can be up to two meters from the toilet. So put a lid on it before you flush and make sure that the toothbrush and toilet are far apart.
“Keep your brush as far from a toilet as possible,” said Dr. Greg Grillo, dentist and spokesperson for Express Dentist, Medical Daily, in an email. “Germs can migrate through the air as you flush and land on your toothbrush, even if the toilet lid is closed.”
The average toothbrush lasts around three months. If the bristles show signs of wear and tear, discard them. Frayed bristles leave plaque on teeth, Dr. Grillo. And replace it with a soft-bristled brush. Solid bristles can damage teeth and gums.
“Electric is better than manual,” wrote Dr. Grillo. “But a normal toothbrush still works, and technology and consistency are more important than electricity. Two minutes, twice a day, will keep your teeth clean with either version. “
Do not cover the brush after use or place it in a closed container. That will actually encourage bacterial growth. Instead, rinse the toothbrush and stand it upright in an open area, advised Dr. Grillo. And make sure it doesn’t touch another toothbrush.
If you have a little extra cash and really want to reduce the microorganisms on your toothbrush, you can invest in a portable UV disinfectant. Research shows that UV light kills many pathogens on a toothbrush, but not all, wrote Dr. Grillo.
A cheaper way to reduce the bulk on your brush is to wash it with dish soap or hand soap. Make sure you rinse it off thoroughly with hot water to avoid an aftertaste, he said. You can also swirl your brush in an alcohol-based mouthwash for 30 seconds to clean your bristles.
“Mouthwash will reduce most of the bacteria on your toothbrush, but don’t let it soak for more than 15 minutes,” said Dr. Grillo. “If you want to soak it longer, you should put your brush in vinegar overnight once a week.”
If the Covid-19 pandemic is a problem, don’t share your toothbrush with someone you live with, wrote Dr. Grillo. And when you are sick, you should throw away your toothbrush, or at least disinfect it.
“Even if (someone) is not symptomatic, they could carry pathogens that are transmitted through the bristles,” said Dr. Grillo. “If you’ve been sick, you should change your toothbrush. Soak your brush in hydrogen peroxide for at least a few minutes. A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution kills many bacteria, germs and fungi. “
Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist and author who has written extensively on health and medicine. His work has been published in national and regional magazines and newspapers.