Is Your Toothbrush Making You Sick?

They say to wash your hands when you're sick, but how about your toothbrush? Prevent reinfecting yourself with this common sense tip.

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Is your toothbrush making you sick?
Q:

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 to spit up some nasty phlegm. Right now, I just rinse my mouth with cold water. What do you suggest?

A: They say doctors don’t get sick as often as others due to their frequency of hand washing. Whether this notion is true or not, infecting yourself via your hands has a 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 with a Toothbrush

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 brushes 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 brushes or brush 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 biohazard. Make sure it is clean before using it!

In summary, do not reuse your floss, keep your toothbrush clean, and replace during and after an 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!

Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS

Read Next: The Mouth-Body Connection: 6 Ways Oral Health Impacts Overall Health

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