A toothbrush is not as clean as we think, and harbors more than 100 million bacteria, according to researchers at the University of Manchester in England. This includes E. coli bacteria, which cause diarrhea, and staphylococci bacteria, which cause skin infections. “This condition is the same as our mouth," says Gayle McCombs, RDH, MS, associate professor and director of the Dental Hygiene Research Center at Old Dominion University. The mouth also harbors millions of microorganisms every day. It becomes a problem when there is an unhealthy balance of bacteria in the mouth. “Each time we remove plaque from the teeth by brushing we are actually removing lots of bacteria, which attaches to the toothbrush instead," says dentist Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.
Even though there are plenty of bacteria in the mouth and toothbrush, brushing the teeth will not cause an infection, as the body’s defenses prevent the attack of these microorganisms. The immune system is able to fight off any infection. Because of this reason, we don’t realize that toothbrushes can really cause a harm or infection. One should be careful about the way the toothbrush is stored to prevent further damages.
Avoid keeping the toothbrush close to the toilet – each flush sends a spray of bacteria into the air and it is better that it is not very close to the open toothbrush in the bathroom. It is common sense to keep the toothbrush away from the toilet, if possible. Furthermore, it is always better to wash the hands before brushing the teeth.
Here are few tips to keep the toothbrush away from the germs:
- Wash the toothbrush thoroughly with water after use.
- Keep the brush dry as bacteria grows in a moist environment. Tooth brushes with covers may create a moist environment, which can breed bacteria and can be avoided.
- Always keep the toothbrush in upright position.
- Never exchange toothbrushes with others, including brothers and sisters. Keeping toothbrushes together can lead to swapping of germs between the brushes.
A number of products are now available to sanitize the toothbrush. Some use heat or ultra violet light, others use germ-killing sprays or rinses. Some of these products are very effective in killing the bacteria that grow in the brush, but there is still no evidence that use of sanitizer can reduce the risk of infections. One has to remember that none of the products can kill 99.9% germs.
The best and simplest way to keep the toothbrush germ-free is to replace it regularly. As per the recommendations of American Dental Association, it is better to replace the toothbrushes every three to four months. Throw the brush out if the bristles become frayed or if you fall sick often. In the case of electric toothbrushes, the head of the brush should be replaced like that of a disposable toothbrush.
Remember that millions of bacteria lurk in our mouth and that brushing and flossing should be regularly done to get rid of most of them. One can also think of rinsing the mouth with an antibacterial rinse to kill most of the bacteria before it gains access to the toothbrush.