Mouth-Body Connection

Is Your Toothbrush Making You Sick?

Doctors say to wash your hands every time after you blow your nose to make sure you don’t reinfect yourself with cold germs. I wonder what I should be doing after I’ve spit up some nasty phlegm. Right now, I just rinse my mouth with cold water. What do you suggest?
They say doctors don’t get sick as often as others due their frequency of hand washing. Whether this notion is true or not, infecting yourself via your hands has basis. Your question brings up a new series of potential issues when you are sick. Let’s say you have a cold and are spitting up lots of phlegm, or your nose is runny. All of these germs will find their way to your hands and toothbrush. So why worry?

Everyone’s focusing on the hand washing when they’re sick, with good reason. But how about washing your toothbrush? Washing your hands can reduce the risk of illness since we put our hands in our mouths, our eyes, our ears. So why is there no focus on cleaning the toothbrush during illness when we stick it directly into our mouths?

But reintroducing that toothbrush back into your mouth could be the worst thing you could be doing for your health on a daily basis.

That doesn’t mean don’t brush.

Many studies clearly state that all of the presently available toothbrushes have the ability to be infected by a wide range of microorganisms, including viruses which can cause the common cold to even herpes. Pneumonia-causing bacteria also are found on a toothbrush.

Second, toothbrush bristles are contaminated, not just on the surfaces, but also in defects and pits on the bristles and along the entire length of the bristles, including the insertion points in the toothbrush head

Third, the number of bristles per tuft, the number of tufts per row, and the number of rows per head have a direct relationship to the promotion of infection and the retention of microorganisms on toothbrushes. The fewer bristles per tuft, the fewer tufts per row, and the fewer rows per head collect fewer bacteria and viruses

Fourth, translucent, or clear head designed toothbrushes have less retention of microorganisms. These bugs are sensitive to light, and survive sitting on the dark side of the toothbrush.

Here’s How to Prevent Reinfecting Yourself

Choose a small toothbrush head
Small headed toothbrushes have less surface area and are cleaner.

Keep it out of the bathroom
Toothbrushes should be stored in the bedroom rather than the bathroom, which is the most contaminated room in the house.

Clean it
Make sure the light surrounds the head. Or soak the toothbrush in diluted castile soap. Do not use Efferdent or Polident.

Change it
Healthy individuals should change their toothbrushes every two weeks or every 2 months if cleaned daily before use.

If you have severe oral or systemic diseases and those undergoing cancer chemotherapy, cardiac surgery, or organ transplantation should change toothbrushes more frequently.

A toothbrush should be changed at the beginning of an illness, when your first start to feel better and when you feel completely well. That’s three replacement toothbrushes or toothbrush heads within weeks. And if you think that is too much to pay for toothbrushes, weigh that against a missed day or two at work.

The toothbrush should be viewed as a necessary evil as well as a bio hazard. Make sure it is clean before using it!

In summary, do not reuse your floss, keep your toothbrush clean, and replace during and after illness. Store it outside the bathroom and use it several times per day. There is a wonderful product that I’m going to recommend soon that I have been using on my toothbrush heads. Stay tuned!

Mark Burhenne DDS

About Mark Burhenne DDS

Mark Burhenne DDS

Hi, I'm Dr. Mark Burhenne, family and sleep medicine dentist. Good dental health is good overall health. It's that important, and it's exactly why I created Ask the Dentist. Learn More ยป


  1. says

    Thanks for the article Dr. B! I have a sonicare toothbrush, so tossing out the toothbrush heads would get expensive. Instead, I wash it in the dishwasher from time to time. Does this work to clean the toothbrush?

    • Ask the Dentist says

      The temperatures in the dishwasher can alter the structure of the bristles, which come into contact with your gums and teeth, and could cause them to be more abrasive.

      Most Sonicares come with a UV light cleaner, but if yours doesn’t have one, soak those toothbrush heads in water with a squirt or two of castile soap.

  2. Ruth Zabor says

    The thought of Ecoli or other pathogens on a toothbrush is so scary. I suffered an ecoli kidney infection in May ’02 while at Tahoe. When I returned three days later, my doctor, Susan Hoffman, put me into the PAMF Urgent Care Center, and she literally saved my life! By the way, a doctor at Incline Village told me to take aspirin for a fever of 101. It would be interesting to know what germs live on a toothbrush. I am very curious about that.

  3. Ruth Zabor says

    No wonder Obama graduated from Harvard. Smoking is an addiction that is difficult to oversome.

    I am happy for the children. Dentists giving talks in schools would greatly enhance this program.

    James Oliver, The Food Revolution, is starting to change eating habits of children.

  4. says

    Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog
    and I’m inspired! Extremely useful info particularly the closing
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