Oral Health: How to Take Proper Care of Your Toothbrush

While most people are aware that daily brushing and flossing are essential aspects of oral health, you might not realize how important toothbrush care is. Learn what you need to do to ensure your toothbrush is keeping your mouth as clean as possible.

Key takeaways:

Good oral hygiene habits are essential for maintaining excellent oral health. Brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing or using a water flosser daily, and regular dental check-ups are key to maintaining a healthy mouth. But do you know the proper techniques for maintaining your toothbrush?

Let’s face it, we use our toothbrush a couple of times a day to remove bacteria from our teeth and gums. Without proper care, your toothbrush can be a haven for bacteria to grow. Besides rinsing your toothbrush after use, let’s discuss other ways to care for your toothbrush.

Can I share a toothbrush?

No, sharing a toothbrush with another person is not recommended. According to the National Institutes of Health, a healthy mouth can contain up to 700 different types of microbes. These can include bacteria that cause common oral conditions like cavities and gum disease. These bacteria can be shared from person to person. Also, many illnesses are transmissible through saliva.

Therefore, remember that the bacteria present in one person's mouth can potentially cause new illnesses or conditions in whomever they share the toothbrush with. That also applies to family members, so you should not share your toothbrush with anyone.

Ways to properly store your toothbrush

How you store your toothbrush between brushing is important. Some things can actually cause more bacteria to accumulate on the toothbrush. Here are a few steps you can take to keep your toothbrush safe from unwanted bacteria.

  1. Rinsing. Rinse your toothbrush with hot water before and after brushing. Hot water can kill and rinse away bacteria lurking on your toothbrush. Before brushing, simply run hot water over the bristles before adding your toothpaste. This will remove most of the bacteria that may have been growing since the last time you brushed. Once you are done brushing, run hot water over the bristles again to thoroughly clean any bacteria that may be left from cleaning your teeth. Use the hottest water available from the faucet for about 30 seconds or longer.
  2. Keep it away from the toilet. An in-vitro study was conducted of 20 toothbrushes stored in bathrooms with a toilet and 20 toothbrushes stored in bathrooms without a toilet. After 3 months, harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, were found embedded in the toothbrush bristles stored in bathrooms with a toilet. This suggests bacterial particles from the toilet flushing could contaminate your toothbrush. Therefore, it is safest to store a toothbrush as far as possible away from the toilet area.
  3. Store toothbrushes separately. It may be tempting to just throw everyone’s toothbrush in the same cup or container. But this can cross-contaminate the toothbrushes. It is best to have brushes stored separately, at least a couple of inches apart, where the bristles are not touching. Some toothbrush holders have multiple holes specifically designed to separate toothbrushes. This allows toothbrushes to dry and bacteria to stay separated.
  4. Air dry. Storing toothbrushes in a drawer or cabinet may seem like a good idea. However, some bacteria and molds love damp, dark areas to grow. Most cabinets do not have enough airflow to properly allow the toothbrush to dry. This can make your toothbrush bristles a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.
  5. Keep an open container. Storing your toothbrush in a closed container can encourage bacteria to grow faster. Make sure there is adequate air movement where you store your toothbrush to ensure the bristles are completely dry between uses.

How to disinfect your toothbrush

There are several methods you may consider for disinfecting your toothbrush. However, the CDC recommends never placing your toothbrush in a microwave or dishwasher to disinfect it. This may seem like a convenient method, but the heat from these devices can damage the toothbrush. Heat-damaged toothbrushes can harm the teeth and gums. Here are some better options.

Soak your toothbrush in antiseptic solution

Some studies have shown that using an antiseptic solution can kill most of the bacteria on your toothbrush. The most beneficial solutions are antibacterial mouthwashes or 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Simply use a clean cup and add a small amount of mouth wash or peroxide. Then swish the head of the toothbrush around in the solution for 30–60 seconds. Remove the brush from the solution and allow it to air dry. Do this once a week to maintain a cleaner toothbrush.

Use a toothbrush sanitizer

Toothbrush sanitizers are small devices that kill bacteria on your toothbrush bristles. Sanitizers do not kill all the bacteria or sterilize the toothbrush. They simply reduce the number of bacteria and germs present on a toothbrush.

According to an article from Colgate, toothbrush sanitizers can function in one of 3 ways:

  1. Steam and dry heat;
  2. Ultraviolet (UV) light;
  3. UV light and heat.

Each method eliminates harmful bacteria and keeps your toothbrush cleaner. These devices are usually very compact and can travel with you. Some are battery-operated, while others are rechargeable. There are many brands and options available for sanitizers. They typically range from around $15 and up.

Replace your toothbrush

Most of us get new toothbrushes when we visit the dentist for our regular check-up every 6 months. Did you know you should replace your toothbrush more often than that?

According to most dental professionals, toothbrushes should be replaced regularly every 34 months. Toothbrush bristles begin to flare and wear over time with regular use. The amount of wear varies depending on each person’s habits. Multiple studies have evaluated how well a toothbrush can remove plaque and bacteria once the bristles become worn. These studies show less plaque removal once the bristles show visible wear.

Some literature also suggests replacing your toothbrush after you have been sick. But the American Dental Association states that unless a person is severely immunocompromised, it is not necessary.

Therefore, most people should make sure to replace your toothbrush at least every 3 months or sooner if you notice the bristles become bent or splayed out to make sure you get the most benefits of plaque removal.

Our mouth can contain thousands of bacteria naturally. Brushing your teeth daily can help remove plaque and prevent many dental problems. But this makes it inevitable for germs to contaminate our toothbrush bristles. By adding a couple of steps to your oral hygiene routine, you can maintain your toothbrush better. So, make sure to follow these recommendations for proper toothbrush care and ensure your mouth stays happy.

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