What’s Living On Your Toothbrush?

scientist-inspecting-cleaning-toothbrush

You count on your toothbrush to help keep your mouth, teeth, and tongue healthy and clean. But do you ever wonder how to clean your toothbrush? You should! Find out more about what can hide on toothbrushes and how to keep yours as clean as possible. 

What Builds Up on Your Toothbrush?

Toothbrushes are designed to help us clean the bacteria, germs, and plaque from our mouths. That’s great news for your oral health. However, that also means those bacteria and germs from your mouth are now on your toothbrush. But that might not be all. Depending on your hand hygiene and toothbrush storage, your toothbrush can collect germs and bacteria from other places, too. In fact, your toothbrush is potentially home to about 1.2 million bacteria, including E. coli, staphylococci, yeast, and more. If you keep your toothbrush out in the open near your toilet, you could also end up with fecal bacteria on your toothbrush. Yuck. 

Thankfully, there are multiple ways to help mitigate all kinds of bacteria and germs that end up on your toothbrush. With thoughtful hygiene before and after brushing, you can keep your toothbrush clean, which will help keep your mouth cleaner, too. And remember, your mouth is a complex microbiome where about 700 species of microbes already live. They already do their part of keeping your mouth healthy. Now it’s time to do your part.

How to Keep Your Toothbrush Away From Germs

First, always wash your hands before brushing your teeth. If your hands are dirty or covered in germs and bacteria, guess what happens when you pick up your toothbrush? Washing your hands thoroughly before brushing ensures you don’t transfer whatever is dirtying your hands onto your toothbrush and into your mouth. It’s also a good idea to wash hands after brushing to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria from your mouth anywhere else. 

Next, make sure that you rinse your toothbrush thoroughly. Use hot tap water before and after brushing. This keeps plaque, food particles, and toothpaste from building up on your toothbrush and ending up back in your mouth. After rinsing, shake off the excess water. Then, make sure you store your toothbrush upright in a holder or container where it can completely dry between cleanings. Most of the bacteria that live on your toothbrush need moisture to stay alive. If your toothbrush is allowed to thoroughly air-dry between uses, the bacteria will die before you brush again. 

It’s also essential to think about the toothbrush holder itself and where you keep it. Ideally, keep your toothbrush holder as far away from the toilet as possible. Additionally, make sure everyone in the home closes the toilet lid before flushing. This will help to reduce the number of bacteria from the toilet that lands on your toothbrush. Also consider keeping it away from the sink since toothbrushes can get splashed while washing dirty hands. Finally, make sure that the toothbrush holder you use keeps multiple toothbrushes from touching each other. This helps them to dry thoroughly and prevents bacteria from being shared between people and their toothbrushes. 

How to Clean Your Toothbrush

Now that you know how to keep your toothbrush away from excess germs and bacteria, it’s time to learn how to clean your toothbrush properly. While you won’t need to clean your toothbrush regularly, there are times—like if you drop your toothbrush on the floor or if you’ve been sick—when you might prefer to disinfect it as best you can. There are several ways to significantly reduce the bacterial load present on your toothbrush. However, keep in mind that you should be replacing your toothbrush every 3 months. If it’s near that time frame, it might be best to just toss it and start fresh!

To safely clean your toothbrush without damaging it, try one of the methods below to kill microorganisms on your toothbrush. 

  • 3% hydrogen peroxide solution: One study showed soaking your toothbrush for 20 minutes in this solution was 100% effective at killing microorganisms. 
  • Antiseptic mouthwash: The same study showed soaking in Listerine mouthwash for 20 minutes was also 100% effective.
  • 100% white vinegar: Another study found soaking your toothbrush in white vinegar is extremely effective.
  • Baking soda solution: Soaking your toothbrush in 2 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in one cup of water is another effective disinfecting method.
  • Denture cleansing tablets: Many of these cleansing tablets use baking soda and citric acid to kill bacteria.

UV sanitizers are also available and kill more bacteria than water; however, the cleaning solutions above are more effective and much less expensive. Regardless of the cleaning solution you choose, rinse your toothbrush well after cleaning before using it again. Never put your toothbrush in the dishwasher, boil it, or microwave it; high heat methods could damage your toothbrush. 

In addition to learning how to clean your toothbrush, make sure you clean your toothbrush holder regularly as well. Since bacteria and germs can also build up there, it could be a source of contamination as well. Give your toothbrush holder a good cleaning once a week with soap and hot water to ensure that your toothbrush (and mouth!) stay as clean as possible.

Why Keeping Your Toothbrush Clean Matters

Keeping your toothbrush free from harmful bacteria helps keep your mouth’s microbiome in balance. While our mouths are home to loads of different bacteria and microorganisms, keeping the right balance is crucial for your oral health. And, as Dr. Kami Hoss reminds us in his forthcoming book, If Your Mouth Could Talk, your oral health is directly connected to your overall health. A healthy mouth helps ensure a healthy body. Making sure your toothbrush is ready to clean your mouth properly is an essential part of excellent oral hygiene and maintaining your whole-body health.

Sources:

https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2019/05/mouth-microbes

https://www.insider.com/how-to-clean-toothbrush#:~:text=Rinse%20the%20bristles%20thoroughly%20in,with%20water%20before%20using%20again

https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/how-to-clean-toothbrush#disinfecting-a-toothbrush

https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faqs/toothbrush-handling.html

https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/toothbrushes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276857/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058182/

http://www.mycohi.org/pdfs/A_Clean_Toothbrush_final.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faqs/toothbrush-handling.html

https://uamshealth.com/medical-myths/can-your-toothbrush-make-you-sick/

https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cold-and-flu-season

https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/brushing-and-flossing/safe-storage-for-family-toothbrushes

https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/brushing-and-flossing/disinfecting-toothbrush-tips

https://www.onhealth.com/content/1/toothbrush_germs_facts

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