While we like to think of our toothbrush as being clean and hygienic, experts point out that our mouths are full of a wide variety of bacteria and every time we brush our teeth we are putting those bacteria on our toothbrush. After all, that is the whole point to brushing our teeth… to remove harmful bacteria, such as plaque.
Although it may be normal for there to be high levels of bacteria in our mouths, the problems start to arise when there becomes an unhealthy balance of bacteria inside the mouth. Leaving your toothbrush exposed to collect additional bacteria and then using to clean your teeth inadvertently introduces additional bacteria to the mouth, which can cause that unhealthy balance of bacteria. One study, conducted by experts at England's University of Manchester found that one exposed toothbrush can contain more than 100 million bacteria; including diarrhea causing E. coli and staphylococci (staph) bacteria that can cause skin infections.
This is just one of the many reasons experts urge that toothbrushes should not be shared with others…not even with your spouse, sister, or close friend. While when we use our own toothbrush we are reintroducing the same bacteria back into our mouths, but when we use someone else’s toothbrush we could be introducing a variety of new bacteria to our mouth, which may cause issues and new diseases to develop.
In addition, researchers also note that those who have weakened immune systems and low resistance may be more susceptible to the bacteria on their toothbrush; and therefore, should replace their toothbrush more frequently. Like Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association explains, our bodies have intricate defenses that usually prevent these bacteria from causing infections, although it is always a good idea to store your toothbrush in a protected place that isn’t too close to the toilet. Every time the toilet is flushed bacteria is released into the air…and most bathrooms are relatively small with the sink near the toilet; which means that storing your toothbrush on the bathroom sink leaves it exposed to all that bacteria from flushing the toilet. If you don’t keep your food or dishes exposed to the bathroom bacteria why would you leave your toothbrush exposed?
The toothbrush should be stored as far away from the toilet as possible and shouldn’t be left uncovered or sopping wet. You might be surprised to learn that the toothbrush holder is said to be one of the top 3 dirtiest objects in the home! Many people don’t think to clean the toothbrush holder and quite often it is stored on the bathroom sink where it collects all that bacteria released by flushing toilets. When cleaning the bathroom don’t forget to clean the toothbrush holder, depending on the kind of holder you have, you might be able to toss it in the dishwasher.
Always rinse your toothbrush well before and after each use and keep it dry in-between uses; bacteria thrive in moist environments. Although you might be tempted to use a toothbrush cover to reduce exposure, toothbrush covers create another breeding ground for bacteria. Toothbrushes should be stored in an upright position and shouldn’t be touching other toothbrushes, which could cause cross-contamination. Using an FDA approved toothbrush sanitizer (that uses heat or ultraviolet light to kill germs) is also a great way to help reduce the amount of bacteria housed in your toothbrush.
Of utmost importance, remember to periodically replace your toothbrush. Not only do the bristles get worn down after time, but the bacteria continues to build-up as well. The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush at least once every 3-4 months, and more frequently if you get sick or have a compromised immune system.
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