Brushing our teeth is an exercise in self-care that most of us do at least twice a day but there is also something we seldom consider; the health of that toothbrush. It might shock you to realize that literally millions of microorganisms (bacteria) live on the bristles of your personal toothbrush. That comes down to millions of microscopic bugs that can potentially cause flu, colds and other illnesses.
Recent studies have confirmed that oral health is connected with overall healthfulness. For example, there is a strong correlation between heart disease, diabetes, premature delivery in pregnant women, and strokes; and gum disease. Researchers discovered there are upwards of 10 million bacteria live on the typical toothbrush and we know that tooth decay is also caused by the type of bacteria that can survive on toothbrushes.
Studies have proven that cold and flu viruses and even the viruses that cause fever blisters (Herpes Simplex I) can survive on toothbrushes for several days – infecting and re-infecting the unsuspecting owner of that toothbrush. Here are just a few viruses that thrive on toothbrushes and some of the problems they can cause:
- E. Coli: bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain and tenderness with no fever
- Influenza Virus: fever, cough, headache and fatigue, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea
- Staphylococci Bacteria: abscesses, boils, and skin infections
- Herpes Simplex I: can affect the mouth, face and skin and can be present in the body without symptoms, generally causes recurring and painful blisters (cold sores or fever blisters)
- Candida Albicans: mild nasal congestion, blisters in the mouth, sore throat or abdominal pain, and/or fatigue, dizziness and mood swings
- Coliform Bacteria: usually present along other disease-causing bacteria and organisms
Some researchers also discovered bio-film thriving on toothbrushes, which is living colonies of breeding bacteria, with estimated numbers as high as 100 million microorganisms existing on individual brushes.
Protecting Your Toothbrush
Surprisingly, it isn’t the bacteria from your mouth that contributes to the worst bacterial problems on a toothbrush, it’s the fact that most people store their toothbrush unprotected in the open, on
the bathroom counter top. By far, flushing the toilet is the worst culprit for germs found on most toothbrushes. Every time you flush the toilet invisible jets of water propels germs into the air, where they can land on toothbrushes.
Family toothbrushes stored side-by-side only compound the risk of sharing germs and viruses. Bacteria, molds, and fungi love moist environments provided by most bathrooms and they also love dark enclosed spaces, so storing toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet may not be as ideal as you might think.
While most dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every couple of months, most American’s aren’t likely to change their toothbrushes more than twice a year. Here are some steps you can take to keep your toothbrush germ free:
Storage: Store toothbrushes away from the toilet in a cool, dry place.
Rinse well: Wash off your toothbrush thoroughly with tap water every time you use it.
Dry it after use: Dry your toothbrush thoroughly between brushings and avoid using toothbrush covers, which can create a moist enclosed breeding ground for bacteria.
Store it upright. Store your toothbrush upright in a holder, rather than lying it down.
Keep it to yourself: Never share a toothbrush and avoid storing it side-by-side in the same container with other people’s brushes.
Ultraviolet Light: Studies indicate that ultraviolet light can be effective in killing germs on toothbrushes and are able to kill many of the bacteria, yeasts, and viruses. A study conducted at New York University Medical Center on countertop ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizers found that this device eliminated up to 99.9 percent of bacteria tested on toothbrushes.
Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse: Cheaper than an ultraviolet device and a measure perhaps just as effective could be the practice of rinsing your toothbrush after each use with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is antibacterial, antifungal, kills mold and mildew and when used properly, it is non-toxic for humans, plants, household animals.
Best practice: keep it clean and keep on brushing
Now that you know how to keep your toothbrush truly clean and germ free as a way to protect yourself and your family from harmful bacteria, it is also important to choose a brush that will do the work of keeping your teeth clean without harming the delicate surface of the tooth or gums. Choose a brush with soft or medium bristles, as they are gentler on the gums and may actually clean better because they’re more flexible. Brush twice a day, at least two minutes each time and rinse your mouth after sugary or starchy snacks. Replace your toothbrush frequently. These practices combined with visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings will help to ensure that you have a lifelong healthy smile.