How clean is your toothbrush? You may be surprised to find that the water in your toilet often has fewer bacteria than your toothbrush! At South Charlotte Dentistry, we want your oral health care and education to extend beyond your visits. Follow these simple habits to keep your brush clean and learn more about how you can ensure your teeth and oral tools are in top shape!
We use our toothbrushes every day to clean our teeth! From scrubbing off the food, plaque, and bacteria from our teeth and tongue, to thoroughly rinsing our toothbrush before and after its use, our toothbrush is something we come into contact with every day. But just how clean and germ-free is our toothbrush, and do you need a specific toothbrush sanitizer to keep harmful bacteria at bay?
The Risks of Harmful Bacteria
Obviously, not all oral bacteria are bad. Just as we have good gut bacteria, our mouth also contains bacteria that maintain a healthy oral environment. However, harmful oral bacteria can cause and contribute to severe dental health hazards, like gingivitis, periodontal disease, oral thrush, oral herpes, canker sores, herpangina, etc.
So just how do you keep your good oral bacteria thriving and the harmful bacteria at bay? Your toothbrush may influence this balance more than you think!
A study at the University of Manchester found that one uncovered toothbrush can harbor more than 100 million bacteria, including E.coli bacteria.
Don’t panic just yet—do you know how many bacteria you have living in your mouth already?
You have 6 billion bacteria (both good and bad) living in your mouth! Realistically, your mouth isn’t “sterile” anyways.
Your mouth is home to hundreds of microorganisms! The real problems start when we introduce harmful bacteria into the mouth and there is an unhealthy balance.
When we brush our teeth, we’re removing bacteria (plaque) using our toothbrush. So we introduce bacteria to our toothbrush when we brush our teeth.
Have you ever thought about how you store your toothbrush? Most people store their toothbrushes in a cup in their bathroom, and in that bathroom, there may also be a shower, daily foot traffic, or even be a space shared by more than one person or people outside of your immediate household. If there’s a toilet in the bathroom, bacteria will likely linger in the air. Your toothbrush sitting on the counter is in a high exposure location to germs!
What type of bacteria is your toothbrush exposed to?
Can our toothbrush make us sick?
It’s pretty unlikely for you to catch an infection from just brushing your teeth; your body has a natural immune defense and it’s pretty good at defending itself from bacteria. Researchers do not have definitive evidence that keeping your toothbrush in the bathroom is causing any damage or harm, nor that it translates into infections. However, you can exercise some precautions about where you keep your toothbrush, what it’s being exposed to, and how you can sanitize your toothbrush to minimize harmful bacteria.
Don’t brush where you flush!
The main concern of keeping your toothbrush on the bathroom sink is the vicinity of a toilet. Every time a toilet is flushed, a spray of bacteria is released into the air. You obviously do not want those toilet particles anywhere near your openly store toothbrush.
Store your toothbrush as far away as possible from the toilet in the bathroom. If possible, encourage shutting the toilet seat before flushing, which minimizes toilet spray releasing into the air.
Toothbrush Sanitizer versus Toothbrush Sterilizing
Sanitizing or disinfecting a toothbrush aims at removing some of the harmful bacteria that collect on its surface. Sterilizing a toothbrush would mean making it completely bacteria-free, which can’t be achieved with a daily-use toothbrush. Even if a sanitizer claims to kill 99% of germs on your toothbrush, there could still be millions of bacteria germs lingering. But, a good toothbrush sanitizer aims at cleansing your toothbrush after its exposure during dormant periods between uses.
The three types of toothbrush sanitizers:
1.Steam and Dry Heat
Steam and heat take turns sanitizing the toothbrush, which makes it so dry that bacteria cannot breed under the conditions.
2. Ultraviolet Light
UV light is a powerful sanitizer, and using UV light on a toothbrush can zap the bacteria.
3. UV and Heat
We might think that by combining heat and UV light to sanitize our toothbrush that we’re doubling the effectiveness of the clean and killing more bacteria, but in reality, UV and heat together still can only kill up to 99.99% of bacteria. For some people, doubling the methods provides more peace of mind, and certainly doesn’t hurt to do.
4. Antibacterial solutions
Antibacterial washes or solutions can be used as a cleanser for toothbrushes.
How can you disinfect your toothbrush to ensure it’s clean and safe to use every time?
Running hot water over the brush before use
For many people, this is just part of their toothbrush routine, and you may not even realize why you’re doing so! The easiest, go-to method for sanitizing your toothbrush is to run hot water over the head before and after each use. Do so before adding toothpaste to your toothbrush, and after you’ve completed brushing your teeth. Ensure that you are allowing the water to get hot enough when rinsing the toothbrush – cold water isn’t going to cut it, you want to see steam rising from the water and that’s how you’ll know the water is hot enough to sanitize!
Running your toothbrush under hot water gets rid of bacteria that may have collected on the toothbrush during the hours between brushings, and eliminates bacteria that might accumulate after each brush. This method is considered the easiest because most people have access to hot water when they’re brushing their teeth, and you’re not having to go out of your way to sanitize your brush.
Soak your toothbrush in a cup of antibacterial mouthwash
In addition to rinsing with mouthwash daily, your mouthwash can also serve another use – cleaning your toothbrush! Use a small cup, fill with antibacterial mouthwash, and place your toothbrush in the cup for about two minutes after each use. The limitations to this method are waiting around or remembering to remove your toothbrush from the cup, changing out the antibacterial mouthwash after each brush, and understanding that mouthwashes’ ingredients contain strong ingredients that will make the bristles of your toothbrush break down faster.
Is boiling your toothbrush a good way to get rid of bacteria?
This might be a surprise, but boiling your toothbrush isn’t the most effective way to get rid of bacteria! Most toothbrushes are made of plastic and run the risk of melting if boiled. If you want to use the method of boiling water, we recommend heating water in a tea kettle or pot on the stove, turning off the heat once it begins to boil, and dipping the head of your toothbrush in for about 30 seconds. However, running hot water from the sink or giving your toothbrush a soak in a cup of antibacterial mouthwash can get your toothbrush clean enough to use.
What about the dishwasher or microwave?
Like the boiling water, sure, putting your toothbrush in the dishwasher or microwave can sanitize it to an extent (but not much more effectively). In general, you run a larger risk of damaging your toothbrush in the process or making the bristles become less effective, or exposing yourself to more dangerous melted plastic particles.
Denture cleanser to clean your toothbrush
Denture cleanser contains antimicrobial ingredients that target bacteria and plaque that grow in the mouth. For this method, you can disinfect your toothbrush by dissolving half a cleansing tablet into a cup of water and submerging your toothbrush for about 90 seconds. Please note that you should not reuse denture cleanser that’s already been used on dentures.
Dipping your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide
In this inexpensive solution, hydrogen peroxide has been shown to reduce toothbrush bacteria by up to 85%! Plus, it’s probably something you already have underneath your sink.
Another popular and effective combination is putting your toothbrush in water, vinegar, and baking soda for 40 minutes.
UV toothbrush sanitizers
A newer method for sanitizing your toothbrush is an ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizer product made just for toothbrushes! This product runs on the more expensive side, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not say you need to use a UV chamber in order to clean your toothbrush. If this one is out of your budget, it’s not a big deal! As we’ve covered previously, there are already products or just water from your tap that can do the job just as effectively! Also, if you choose to purchase a UV product, please make sure that it has been reviewed by the FDA.
Storage and other toothbrush tips
- Rinse your toothbrush with each use.
- Wash your hands before brushing your teeth.
- Ensure that your toothbrush has a chance to dry completely between brushings, as bacteria love a moist environment.
- Alternate between two brushes so that your brush has a better chance of drying out between uses.
- Store your toothbrush upright in a holder, rather than lying it down on a potentially germ-filled surface.
- Do not share toothbrushes, or store toothbrushes side-by-side! When toothbrushes are in close contact, they can swap germs.
- Use antimicrobial toothpaste on a daily basis.
- Use a different tube of toothpaste if someone in your family or household is sick.
- Sanitize your toothbrush after each use, and sanitize the toothbrush holder or cup often.
What’s the BEST way to limit bacteria on your toothbrush? Replace it!
You should replace your toothbrush on a regular basis, about every three to four months. If you’re a rough-brusher and notice the bristles fraying, if you have a weaker immune system, or you’ve recently been sick, throw out the toothbrush. If you use an electric toothbrush, you should be disposing of the head as often as you would a disposable toothbrush.
What about a travel toothbrush?
Travel toothbrushes are typically kept in a closed toothbrush head container, which is even more prone to hosting bacteria as it prevents the wet toothbrush from ever drying out. Bacteria love a moist environment!
When traveling, try to create a clean, sanitary space or designate a cup to let your toothbrush dry out overnight or between uses. Immediately putting your used toothbrush back into a plastic container is going to trap the moisture and create a breeding ground for bad bacteria. You should replace travel toothbrushes more frequently than those at home.
The method of running hot water to sanitize your brush is probably the easiest and most convenient way to consistently clean your toothbrush, no matter where you’re at in the world. Be sure to also wash your hands before brushing and flossing to avoid transferring bacteria on your hands to your toothbrush.
Find what sanitization works for your daily routine, and don’t overthink it!
Sanitizing your toothbrush is important not because you’re truly sterilizing every last bit of bacteria on your brush, but because you’re taking steps to minimize bad bacteria buildup on your toothbrush. Your toothbrush is your most important tool to keep your teeth and overall oral health in the best shape possible. Just as you care and clean for other equipment in your house, your toothbrush also requires a certain level of daily attention to keep it effective and safe for use. Luckily, toothbrush upkeep is relatively simple and can easily be integrated into our brushing routines. Come see us at South Charlotte Dentistry!