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To toss or not to toss: is your toothbrush making you sick?


Although it may not feel like it with the back-to-back heat waves we’ve experienced in recent months, Cold Season is just around the corner. With research increasingly linking oral health to overall health, the toothbrush has become a point of focus in the battle against seasonal illness and a key part in maintaining overall wellness.

According to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, “researchers have found there to be as many as 1.2 million bacteria on a single toothbrush, with 70% of used toothbrushes contaminated with germs like e-coli and staph bacteria, the flu and strep virus, and also yeast funguses.”  This might be enough information for us to want to toss our toothbrushes immediately, however, don’t toss your toothbrush just yet. Did you know that 90% of the human body is actually made up of bacteria! That is, for every one skin cell in our bodies, there are another nine bacteria cells present! The majority of these bacteria are good bacteria that help to create our immunity against the bad bacteria that we are exposed to on a daily basis! Your toothbrush with the millions of germs it carries can actually act like a vaccine, exposing you to millions of bacteria on a daily basis that help your body to build resistance against them, thereby strengthening your immune system and promoting overall wellness. Additionally, using your toothbrush as part of your everyday good hygiene habits will keep your mouth as healthy and germ-free as possible!

The risk of infection occurs when the body is exposed to bacteria and other germs that it is not familiar with and has not had the opportunity to build resistance to. These foreign germs usually come in the form of your typical seasonal colds and flus that change in their severity and makeup each year, but they can also come from the very place that your toothbrush is stored. One of the main ways to prevent foreign germs from getting on your toothbrush is being careful how and where you store it. According to UAMS, “bathrooms are the perfect place for bacteria to grow – they are moist and steamy. [Additionally] it is not helpful that most toothbrushes sit next to the toilet!”

To avoid a germy toothbrush, put the following helpful tips into practice:

  • Wash your hands before and after brushing and flossing.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3-4months or when bristles become worn.
  • According to the American Dental Association, bacteria can be present on your toothbrush “right out of the box” since there is no requirement for brushes to be sold in a sterile package. So you might want to give a new toothbrush a good soak before you use it
  • Keep your toothbrush as far from the toilet as possible, and keep the seat down when flushing! A single flush can send tiny particles of fecal matter onto your toothbrush (actually proven by Mythbusters)!
  • Do not store your toothbrush in such a way that it could come into contact with someone else’s toothbrush or linger in other people’s germs, such as mutual toothbrush holders or cups. Remember, you are used to the germs on your toothbrush, but not to those on another person’s toothbrush that could lead to illness especially if the other person has just recovered from a cold!
  • Do not cover your wet toothbrush with a toothbrush cover immediately after brushing, as this is the perfect environment for breeding germs! After brushing always place your toothbrush in an upright position, preferably in dry, roomy cupboard or cabinet and allow to dry.
  • Do not share toothpaste with someone who is sick, as the germs from their toothbrush can infect the entire tube of toothpaste. Rather use your own tube and have the person who’s sick use their own travel size toothpaste until they have recovered, at which point they should toss the toothpaste.
  • If you have been sick and you just recently replaced your toothbrush, instead of tossing it, try sterilizing it with hydrogen peroxide or boiling water. Although research indicates that you have built up immunity to the germs from your illness that now live on your toothbrush, it’s safer to sterilize your toothbrush before using it next. If you had a particularly long and aggressive cold or flu and/or your toothbrush is old, it’s a good idea to toss your old toothbrush!

By maintaining your everyday good hygiene habits and putting the above tips into practice you will be better prepared and ready to face the upcoming “cold season” with toothbrush in hand!

[AUTHOR: Drs. Edstrom & Trigonis – Eric C. Edstrom & Alex J. Trigonis DDS, MS… leading orthodontic practice that has been serving the Greater Santa Barbara area for over 23 years.]

September 30, 2015

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