Every morning and most evenings, we head to the bathroom, grab a toothbrush and clean our teeth. And then put that brush someplace.
Unless you are careful, first about cleaning that brush and second about storing that brush, then it’s likely you’ve spread more than toothpaste on your teeth: A bacchanal of yucky micro-organisms are probably now in your mouth, and depending where you put that brush, you’ve set it up for even more microorganisms: By some counts, about 10 million microorganisms.
A few years ago, researchers at England’s Manchester Metropolitan University isolated up to 10 million microorganisms on a single toothbrush, including staph, yeast, and E. coli-like bacteria from — well, it is the bathroom. Take a guess.
It’s even more disgusting if you share a bathroom. In a 2015 study, researchers at Quinnipiac University collected toothbrushes from communal bathrooms. They found that 60% of the toothbrushes held fecal coliform, and a gag-worthy 80% chance that it wasn’t their poop. A 2020 study found nothing much had changed, save for one particular nasty that clings for a few weeks.
Before you start brushing your teeth in the kitchen, understand that it’s unlikely that your toothbrush and its c ontents will make you sick. The body’s immune system neutralizes most of those microorganisms. That’s not to say that germs from your brush can’t potentially cause health problems.
So w hat can you do to keep your toothbrush as clean as possible?
For starters, wash your hands before brushing and don’t brush where you flush. Flushing a toilet launches germs into the air and fecal material can travel as far as six feet from the toilet. So put a lid on it before you flush and make sure toothbrush and toilet remain far apart.
“Keep your brush as far away from a toilet” as possible, Dr. Greg Grillo, a dentist and spokesperson for Express Dentist, told Medical Daily in an email. “ Germs can travel through the air when flushing and end up on your toothbrush, even when the toilet lid is closed.”
The average toothbrush lasts about three months. When the bristles start showing signs of wear, toss it. Frayed bristles leave plaque on the teeth, Dr. Grillo explained . And replace it with a soft bristle brush. Firm bristles can damage your teeth and gums.
“Electric is better than manual,” Dr. Grillo wrote. “But a regular toothbrush still works, and the technique and consistency are more important than electricity. Two minutes, twice a day keeps your teeth clean with either version.”
After using your brush, don’t cover it or put it in a closed container. That will actually encourage bacterial growth. Instead, rinse the toothbrush and place it in an upright position in an open area, Dr. Grillo advised. And make sure it’s not touching another toothbrush.
If you have some extra cash lying around and really want to reduce the microorganisms on your toothbrush, you can invest in a portable ultraviolet sanitizer. Research shows that UV light kills many pathogens on a toothbrush, but not all, Dr. Grillo wrote.
A cheaper way to reduce the crud on your brush is by washing it with dish or hand soap. Make sure you thoroughly rinse it 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 the majority of bacteria on your toothbrush, but don’t soak it for longer than 15 minutes,” Dr. Grillo said . ”If you’d like to soak it longer, consider placing your brush in vinegar overnight once a week.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic a concern, don’t share your toothbrush, even with someone you live with, Dr. Grillo wrote. And if you’re sick, consider ditching your toothbrush or, at the very least, sanitizing it.
“Even if (someone) is not symptomatic, they could be carrying pathogens that transmit through the bristles,” Dr. Grillo said. “If you’ve been sick, consider replacing your toothbrush. At a minimum, soak your brush in hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes. A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution kills many bacteria, germs and fungi.”
Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist and book author who has written extensively about health and medicine. His work has appeared in national and regional magazines and newspapers.